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William F. Harrah: 

My Recollections of the 
Hotel-Casino Industry, and as an 
Auto Collecting Enthusiast 

Interviewee: William Fisk Harrah 
Interviewed: 1977-1978 
Published: 1980 
Interviewer: Mary Ellen Glass 
UNOHP Catalog #083 


William Fisk Harrah was a native of California, born in 1911. He grew up and received his education in southern 
California, where his father was an attorney and politician. During his college years, William Harrah and his family 
encountered in their various enterprises the problems related to the Depression. John Harrah suffered some reverses 
in business affairs, and at the same time the “games of chance” establishments that the father and son operated in 
Venice underwent law enforcement disturbances that ultimately led to their coming to Nevada, where gambling 
was legal. 

In Reno in the 1930s, William Harrah found a congenial climate for his business talents, establishing bingo parlors, 
bars, and finally a gambling casino. The casinos grew from one in Reno to two with the expansion into South Tahoe, 
with hotels a natural extension. All of these ventures proved successful under Harrah’s perfectionist management. 
Within a relatively short time, William Harrah became a wealthy and respected gambling entrepreneur. 

Another logical feature for the casinos and hotels came with elaborate stage shows and a “star” system unmatched in 
Nevada. The most famous figures of the entertainment world played at Harrah’s both at Reno and Tahoe. Everywhere, 
patrons and prospective patrons heard about flawless service in restaurants, casinos, and showrooms operated by 
Harrah’s. By the 1970s, when Nevada legalized corporate structure for casinos, the Harrah conglomerate was ready; 
trading in the company stock proved attractive from the beginning, with William Harrah retaining control of the 
management and operation. 

Concurrent with the developments in gambling, Harrah expanded his longtime interest in automobiles into a 
consuming hobby that evolved into a world-famous automotive museum. Confessedly “goofy over cars,” Harrah 
spent increasing amounts of time and money in developing his collection and the museum, but not merely as a 
wealthy collector. He exercised his interest by attending sales, shows, races, and rallies all over the world. As a result, 
Harrah’s Automobile Collection shows the wide-ranging appreciation of its owner for nearly anything connected 
with his avocation. 

This oral history contains Harrah’s recollections of his childhood and youth in California, his early business ventures 
there, and the years of growth in Reno and Tahoe. It also reveals the consuming love for the automobiles that built 
William Harrah’s distinguished collection. There are also discussions on Harrah’s property acquisitions in Idaho, 

(Continued on next page.) 

Description (continued) 

his Middle Fork Lodge, and vacations which got him away from the gambling business. Notes on the Harrah family 
and a philosophical conclusion complete the volumes. 

This oral history of William F. Harrah provides readers with a rare opportunity to be exposed to the unique and 
demanding Harrah style and to see how it was developed and implemented over the five decades that he was involved 
with the management of gambling and gaming operations. 

William F. Harrah: 

My Recollections of the 
Hotel-Casino Industry, and as an 
Auto Collecting Enthusiast 

William F. Harrah: 

My Recollections of the 
Hotel-Casino Industry, and as an 
Auto Collecting Enthusiast 

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of 
Leon Mandel in preparation of this script. 

An Oral History Conducted by Mary Ellen Glass 

University of Nevada Oral History Program 

Copyright 1980 

University of Nevada Oral History Program 
Mail Stop 0324 
Reno, Nevada 89557 
unohp @unr. edu 
http: / / www. unr. edu/ oralhistory 

All rights reserved. Published 1980. 
Printed in the United States of America 

Publication Staff: 
Director: Mary Ellen Glass 

University of Nevada Oral History Program Use Policy 

All UNOHP interviews are copyrighted materials. They may be downloaded and/or 
printed for personal reference and educational use, but not republished or sold. Under 
“fair use” standards, excerpts of up to 1000 words may be quoted for publication without 
UNOHP permission as long as the use is non-commercial and materials are properly 
cited. The citation should include the title of the work, the name of the person or 
people interviewed, the date of publication or production, and the fact that the work 
was published or produced by the University of Nevada Oral History Program (and 
collaborating institutions, when applicable). Requests for permission to quote for other 
publication, or to use any photos found within the transcripts, should be addressed 
to the UNOHP, Mail Stop 0324, University of Nevada, Reno, Reno, NV 89557-0324. 
Original recordings of most UNOHP interviews are available for research purposes 
upon request. 


Preface to the Digital Edition ix 

Introduction xi 

Special Introduction by Professor William R. Eadington xiii 

1. Early Life, Education, First Gambling Experiences 1 

2. Gambling in Reno, 1937-1946 29 

Memory Sketches of Some Early-Day Employees 
Wartime Interlude and the Blackout Bar 

3. From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc. 1946-1978 59 

Regulation, Taxes, and Law Enforcement 

Day to Day Operation 

Players and Other Competitors in Reno 

Harrah’s Hotel, Reno 

View from the Executive Suite 

4. Harrah’s Tahoe 131 

Stars at Tahoe 

Government and Other Problems at Tahoe 

5. Adventures in Idaho 


William F. Harrah 


6. A Love Affair with Automobiles 179 

Some Car Builders 
Memory Sketches 

Observations on Modern Auto Manufacturing 
“Goofy Over Cars” 

7. The Collector of Antique Cars 225 

The Pony Express Museum 
Building a Collection 
Accessories and Parts 
The Around the World Thomas Flyer 
Reading About Cars 

Some Automobile Museums in the U.S.A. 

European Collections 
Dream of a New Museum 
Car Clubs 

Rallyes and Tours on the Automobile Circuit 
Race Cars and Drivers 

8. Some Thoughts on Civic Affairs 309 

9. My Family and Some Thoughts about My Life 313 

Original Index: For Reference Only 


Preface to the Digital Edition 

Established in 1964, the University of 
Nevada Oral History Program (UNOHP) 
explores the remembered past through 
rigorous oral history interviewing, creating a 
record for present and future researchers. The 
programs collection of primary source oral 
histories is an important body of information 
about significant events, people, places, 
and activities in twentieth and twenty-first 
century Nevada and the West. 

The UNOHP wishes to make the 
information in its oral histories accessible 
to a broad range of patrons. To achieve 
this goal, its transcripts must speak with 
an intelligible voice. However, no type font 
contains symbols for physical gestures and 
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of verbal communication. When human 
speech is represented in print, stripped of 
these signals, the result can be a morass of 
seemingly tangled syntax and incomplete 
sentences—totally verbatim transcripts 
sometimes verge on incoherence. Therefore, 
this transcript has been lightly edited. 

While taking great pains not to alter 
meaning in any way, the editor may have 
removed false starts, redundancies, and the 
“uhs,” “ahs,” and other noises with which 
speech is often liberally sprinkled; compressed 
some passages which, in unaltered form, 
misrepresent the chroniclers meaning; and 
relocated some material to place information 
in its intended context. Laughter is represented 
with [laughter] at the end of a sentence in 
which it occurs, and ellipses are used to 
indicate that a statement has been interrupted 
or is incomplete.. .or that there is a pause for 
dramatic effect. 

As with all of our oral histories, while 
we can vouch for the authenticity of the 
interviews in the UNOHP collection, we 
advise readers to keep in mind that these are 
remembered pasts, and we do not claim that 
the recollections are entirely free of error. 
We can state, however, that the transcripts 
accurately reflect the oral history recordings 
on which they were based. Accordingly, each 
transcript should be approached with the 


William F. Harrah 

same prudence that the intelligent reader 
exercises when consulting government 
records, newspaper accounts, diaries, and 
other sources of historical information. 
All statements made here constitute the 
remembrance or opinions of the individuals 
who were interviewed, and not the opinions 
of the UNOHP. 

In order to standardize the design of all 
UNOHP transcripts for the online database, 
most have been reformatted, a process that 
was completed in 2012. This document may 
therefore differ in appearance and pagination 
from earlier printed versions. Rather than 
compile entirely new indexes for each volume, 
the UNOHP has made each transcript fully 
searchable electronically. If a previous version 
of this volume existed, its original index has 
been appended to this document for reference 
only. A link to the entire catalog can be found 
online at 

For more information on the UNOHP 
or any of its publications, please contact the 
University of Nevada Oral History Program at 
Mail Stop 0324, University of Nevada, Reno, 
NV, 89557-0324 or by calling 775/784-6932. 

Alicia Barber 
Director, UNOHP 
July 2012 


William Fisk Harrah was a native 
of California, born in 1911. He grew up 
and received his education in southern 
California, where his father was an attorney 
and politician. During his college years, 
William Harrah and his family encountered 
in their various enterprises the problems 
related to the Depression. John Harrah 
suffered some reverses in business affairs, 
and at the same time the “games of chance” 
entertainment establishments that the father 
and son operated in Venice underwent law 
enforcement disturbances that led to their 
abandoning southern California for Nevada, 
where gambling was legal. 

In Reno in the 1930s, William Harrah 
found a congenial climate for his business 
talents, establishing Bingo parlors, bars, 
and finally a gambling casino. Ah of these 
ventures proved successful under Harrah’s 
perfectionist management. Within a 
relatively short time, William Harrah 
became a wealthy and respected gambling 
entrepreneur. The casinos grew from one in 
Reno to two with the expansion into South 

Tahoe, with hotels a natural extension. 
Another logical feature for the casinos and 
hotels came with elaborate stage shows and 
a “star” system unmatched in Nevada. The 
most famous figures of the entertainment 
world played at Harrah’s both at Reno and at 
Tahoe. Everywhere, patrons and prospective 
patrons heard about flawless service in 
restaurants, casinos, and showrooms 
operated by Harrah’s. By the 1970s, when 
Nevada legalized corporate structure for 
casinos, the Harrah conglomerate was 
ready; trading in the company stock proved 
attractive from the beginning, with William 
Harrah retaining control of the management 
and operation. 

Concurrent with the developments in 
gambling, Harrah expanded his long-time 
interest in automobiles into a consuming 
hobby that evolved into a world-famous 
automotive museum. Confessedly “goofy 
over cars,” the gambling chieftain spent 
increasing amounts of time and money in 
developing his collection and the museum, 
but not merely as a wealthy collector. He 

William F. Harrah 


exercised his interest by attending sales, 
shows, races, and rallyes all over the world. 
As a result, Harrah’s Automobile Collection 
shows the wide-ranging appreciation of its 
owner for nearly anything connected with 
his avocation. 

When invited to participate in the Oral 
History Project, William Harrah accepted 
graciously. He was a generous and good- 
humored chronicler of his life through fifteen 
recording sessions, all held in his office in 
the First National Bank Building in Reno, 
from December 6, 1977 to June 7, 1978. The 
oral history contains Harrah’s recollections 
of his childhood and youth in California, of 
his early business ventures there, and of the 
years of growth in Reno and Tahoe. The oral 
history also reveals the consuming love for 
the automobile that built his distinguished 
collection. Notes on the Harrah family 
and a philosophical conclusion complete 
the volumes. Within only weeks after the 
finish of the taping session, William Harrah 
died following surgery. The oral history 
was reviewed by Mrs. Verna Harrah, who 
provided some corrections but no changes 
in the text. We gratefully acknowledge Mrs. 
Harrah’s contribution to this work. 

Dr. William Eadington’s introduction 
to the oral history provides a scholar’s 
assessment of its value as a research 

The Oral History Project of the University 
of Nevada-Reno Library records the past 
and present for future research by taping 
the reminiscences of people who have been 
important witnesses to the development 
of Nevada and the West. The resulting 
transcripts are deposited in the Special 
Collections departments of the University 
Libraries at Reno and Las Vegas, where they 
are available for research. Mrs. Harrah has 
acceded to Mr. Harrah’s wishes in designating 

this oral history as open for research, and has 
generously donated the literary rights in the 
volume to the University of Nevada. 

Mary Ellen Glass 
University of Nevada-Reno 

Special Introduction 

William Fisk Harrah was a very private 
man. However, he had greater impact upon 
the development of the casino gaming 
industry in northern Nevada and, indeed, 
in Nevada, than any other single individual. 
His company, Harrah’s, has long been 
acknowledged to be one of the most profitable 
and best run in the casino gaming industry. It 
has also set a style for the quality and integrity 
of operations for casinos as well as for food 
service, entertainment, and hotel services that 
has been copied throughout the State and in 
Atlantic City. 

The operations of the Harrah’s casinos 
at Reno and Lake Tahoe were tremendously 
influenced by William Harrah’s values and 
beliefs of sound management practices. 
The following statement made in 1974 by 
the former Vice President of Finance for 
Harrah’s might just as well describe the 
management beliefs of William Harrah. 
“[Harrah’s] management style could be 
characterized as highly centralized and detail 
oriented. Management is oriented toward 
perfection in even the slightest detail, and the 

company emphasis is on quality, courtesy and 
friendliness and, of course, absolute honesty. 1 

This oral history of William F. Harrah 
provides a rare opportunity to be exposed to 
the unique and demanding Harrah style and 
to see it develop and be implemented over 
the five decades Harrah was involved with 
the management of gambling and gaming 
operations. Harrah’s first experience with 
running a gambling operation was helping his 
father run a “Circle Game,” a variant of Bingo, 
in Venice, California, in the early 1930s. His 
father, who was an attorney, a former mayor 
of Venice, and a successful businessman 
in finance and real estate, lost much of his 
wealth following the stock market crash of 
1929. He then opened the Circle Game on 
the boardwalk in Venice, and recruited his 
son William, a student at UCLA, to help him 
run the game. Although the younger Harrah 
admired his father’s intelligence and business 
skills, the greatest business lessons from his 
father were negative. Harrah felt his father 
did not understand the needs or feelings of 
customers, and disagreed with his father on 


William F. Harrah 

attempts to save a few dollars when it implied 
discomfort for the customers. The younger 
Harrah also felt a gambling operation should 
have both the appearance and the reality of 
totally honest games. Therefore, when he 
bought his father out of the Circle Game in 
1933 for five hundred dollars, he immediately 
put in new, more comfortable stools for the 
customers, improved the appearance of 
the parlor, and fired all the shills who had 
been employed to give the appearance there 
was a lot of action, but who in reality made 
legitimate customers question the honesty of 
the game. 

Under William Harrah’s direction, the 
Circle Game was quite successful; however, 
because Venice was part of the city of Los 
Angeles, the game was also illegal. For the 
tour years that Harrah ran the Circle Game, 
there was a continuing pattern of running the 
game, getting closed down by the authorities, 
changing the game slightly and reopening it, 
and then running it again until the next time 
the authorities clamped down. 

Harrah visited Reno in 1937 and was 
impressed by the legal and unharrassed 
status of gambling in Nevada. When he 
was given the opportunity to buy a Bingo 
parlor in Reno, he took it, and opened his 
first parlor in Reno in the fall of 1937. Over 
the next decade, he expanded and bought 
out a number of competitors, and learned a 
number of important lessons about the nature 
of the gambling business. First on the list was 
location. A good operation in a bad location 
will always have to struggle. Second was 
the importance of other diversions besides 
gambling. At one time, when he operated 
Bingo parlors on both sides of Harolds Club, 
he convinced Pappy Smith, the owner of 
Harolds Club, of the wisdom of cutting a door 
between the casino and Harrah’s Bingo parlor. 
This allowed drinks to be served in the Bingo 

parlors, and players to wander freely between 
the slots and table games of the casinos 
and the Bingo parlor, helping the business 
of both places. Third was the difficulty of 
making decisions when dealing with partners. 
Harrah had entered into a partnership when 
he purchased a Reno bar during World War 
II, but the business did not tare well because 
the partners could not agree on important 
decisions. This is probably an important 
reason why Harrah’s, until it became a publicly 
traded corporation in 1971, was owned solely 
by William F. Harrah. 

Harrah opened his first casino in Reno in 
1946 and, after a shaky beginning, the casino 
performed quite well. This allowed Harrah 
to do some additional experimentation. He 
found that entertainment in a casino could 
be valuable for a number of reasons. It would 
give people a feeling they were somewhere 
special, and give them an excuse for visiting 
a casino. It would also give management 
something to promote in their advertising 
besides gambling, and thus market Harrah’s 
in states where gambling was illegal without 
having to refer to gambling. Harrah also 
coined the term “gaming” to try to overcome 
the negative connotations which were often 
associated with gambling. 

Over the years, the policies distinguishing 
Harrah’s in the gaming industry evolved, often 
by trial and error, yet always influenced by the 
values of William Harrah. He learned early 
the value of not having to deal with employee 
unions. He avoided their formation over the 
years by treating employees properly, for 
example, by providing meaningful grievance 
procedures, promoting from within, and 
staying even or ahead of unions on wages 
and benefits. He also acknowledged, as 
his operations grew, he and his original 
management team would need help in 
running a larger and more complex casino- 

Special Introduction 


entertainment operation. He was therefore 
not reluctant to purchase the services of 
consulting experts to evaluate management 
practices at Harrah’s and indeed he established 
a reputation by the mid-1960s for being open 
to good ideas. 

Harrah went by the personal philosophy 
that he wanted his customers treated in the 
same manner he himself would want to be 
treated. Therefore, whenever he traveled, he 
would note what was good and what was bad 
about the hotels he visited, and when he built 
his hotels in Reno and Lake Tahoe in 1969 
and 1973, he implemented most of the good 
qualities and avoided most of the weaknesses 
he found in other places. He wanted his hotels 
to be places that were special, not “just a 
Holiday Inn type thing,” as he once referred 
to Harvey’s hotel at Lake Tahoe. 

After Harrah opened the main showroom 
at his Lake Tahoe facility in 1960, he 
quickly learned the value of the quality 
of entertainment on the volume of play 
conducted at the gaming tables and slot 
machines. The best stars were the ones 
which drew the customers, those who 
gambled. Thus, a good star, such as Frank 
Sinatra or Sammy Davis, Jr., was worth far 
more to the operation than the receipts he 
could generate in the showroom. Quality 
entertainment, as with quality restaurants 
and hotel accommodations, were all part of 
a package which, along with gambling, could 
attract customers again and again and be the 
formula for a successful casino operation. 

Yet for all the qualities Harrah and 
his operations were known for, the most 
important was the integrity and honesty of 
the games and of the entire casino operations. 
Gaming in Nevada, especially prior to 1960, 
had a national reputation of being associated 
with unsavory characters, being owned or 
controlled by organized crime, or of cheating 

customers in rigged games. Harrah, who 
had acquired a respect for the law from his 
attorney father, believed from the start that 
if gambling operations were to remain legal 
in the long run, they would have to be run 
without any question of integrity. This attitude 
has permeated the Harrah’s organization over 
the years; Harrah’s has never been implicated 
in any scandal and has often been cited as 
the model gaming operation in the state of 
Nevada. In his otherwise scathing 1965 book 
on the questionable owners and operators of 
Nevada casinos, Wallace Turner wrote, “The 
people with foresight in Nevada, those who 
sit and think about the future of the states 
gambling business, look on Bill Harrah as a 
shining example. If more gambling houses 
were in the hands of men like him, one is 
told over and over, then the future of Nevada 
gambling would be completely safe. In short, 
Bill Harrah is what they wish they had 
everywhere in Nevada.” 2 

This oral history deals not only with 
Harrah’s casino and hotel operations. There 
is also substantial discussion of Harrah’s 
lifelong interest with the automobile and with 
driving at high speeds. Harrah’s automobile 
collection, which is housed in a warehouse 
near his Reno casino operations, is world 
famous. Nearly half of the oral history deals 
with Harrah’s cars and stories about the cars 
over the years. There are also long discussions 
on Harrah’s property acquisitions in Idaho, 
his Middle Fork Lodge, and vacations which 
got him away from the gambling business. 
These discussions reveal more of the person, 
his values toward life and toward nature. 
In general, they are quite insightful to the 
personality of this shy and quiet man. 

There were weaker sides of William 
Harrah which are also brought out in the oral 
history. In his earlier days, he was a heavy 
drinker and man about town. However, by his 


William F. Harrah 

early thirties, he began to realize the damage 
such a lifestyle was doing to his health, so 
he reformed. He was sometimes accused of 
being a perfectionist who could not tolerate 
imperfections in others; on occasion, his 
remarks reflect this. He was not terribly 
successful at matrimony; he was married 
seven times in his life. 

William Fisk Harrah died on July 1,1978, 
shortly after this oral history was completed. 
Within two years, the Harrah’s Corporation 
was purchased by Holiday Inns, Inc., for a 
price in excess of $300 million. The Harrah’s 
name is now in Atlantic City, as the legal casino 
gaming industry spreads and becomes more 
accepted in other jurisdictions throughout the 
United States and in the world. However, it is 
likely that the influence Harrah has had on 
casino gambling will continue for quite some 
time both in the casino operations which 
carry his name and in a growing number of 

William R. Eadington 
Associate Professor of Economics 
University of Nevada-Reno 
October, 1980 

1. J. George Drews, “The Business of Gaming: 
An Insider’s View,” in W.R. Eadington, 
(editor), Gambling and Society, C.C. Thomas, 
Publisher, Springfield, Ill., 1976, p. 164. 

2. Wallace Turner, Gambler’s Money, 
Houghton-Mifflin, Boston, Mass., 1965, p. 


Early Life, Education, 
First Gambling Experiences 

William F. Harrah: My father, John Harrah 
was born and raised in Newton, Iowa; and his 
father and his mother were both born and 
raised in Newton, Iowa. My grandfather (my 
father’s father) was an attorney—a very nice 
man, who died quite young. I was just a little 
child. In tact, my grandfather’s funeral was the 
first funeral I ever went to. I can remember it 
very clearly now. That was in 1919. And the 
high point of the funeral [laughs], me being 
a car guy, was my father borrowed a Marmon 
automobile to transport the family, which was 
a much classier car than our family car. And 
I remember more about the Marmon than I 
do the funeral. 

Anyway they were all in Iowa, and I 
don’t know who went to California first, my 
grandfather or my father. I believe it was my 
grandfather and my grandmother. They were 
getting up in years, and they had some money, 
so they moved to Pasadena, California. 
I believe my father and mother stayed in 
Newton, where my father was a practicing 
attorney. But I remember my father, too, said 
many times he was quite successful there 

with his law business. Also, he made loans 
on farms around the area. Many times, he 
said the reason he moved to California was 
he just hated those cold Iowa winters, which 
was—I believed him, of course. I believed 
about everything he told me. 

I remember when the winter Olympics 
were at Squaw Valley up here, we arranged 
for a house up there where we rented, and I 
stayed there during the Olympics and went 
every day, which was very enjoyable. And I 
invited my father up; I had plenty of rooms. 
And it was very funny—he was all bundled 
up—he came up from Arizona. And he went 
one day in the morning [laughs] and left— 
wherever he went out for lunch—why, he just 
went back to Reno and back to Arizona. He 
said, “I came out to get away from those damn 
cold winters!” 

But on getting back to—he moved out, 
and his father was in Pasadena, and they were 
quite close. But Pasadena was pretty ritzy, and 
he couldn’t afford that, so he bought a home in 
South Pasadena, which is where I was born. I 
have an older sister that was born in Newton. 


William F. Harrah 

Then I was born soon after the family moved 
to California. And the house where I was born 
is still standing; my sister told me that. (She 
keeps track of the family better than I do.) 
She’s an artist, and she drew a little picture of 
it one time on a Christmas card. And it had 
a little sign on the lawn; it was real cute. She 
had the house and the address and South 
Pasadena, and the little sign on the lawn said, 
“Bill Harrah was born here.” [Chuckles] So 
last spring my wife and I were in Los Angeles 
for a few days, and I said, “Hey, let’s go to 
South Pasadena and look at the house,” which 
we did, and it’s still standing. It’s a real neat 
little house. 

But he was in South Pasadena, and he 
started going to Venice—or to the beach. He 
loved the ocean, he loved the beach. I think 
my mother dad, too. And so soon after I was 
born, they moved to Venice and bought a 
home (I’m sure they bought it; they didn’t 
build it—maybe they did build it) right on 
the waterfront. And it was what was called 
the South Beach; that was south of Venice. 
Most of the residences were north of Venice. 
On the South Beach where we lived, about 
halfway to then Del Rey, I think there were 
only three houses in the area—three or four. 
And they were all older people except one 
nearby house; they had a daughter that was a 
little older than me, a little younger than my 
sister. And we three kids were the only ones 
in that area, which was kind of disappointing 
because I didn’t have any boy friends till I— 
just about till—well, they started moving in, 
so—. Wait, I’m gettin’ away from my father, 
aren’t I? 

Well, we moved to Venice. [The] first 
story I’d like to tell on my father—he knew a 
lot about automobiles, too, although later in 
life he lost interest; I mean he lost an intense 
interest. But he always had good cars, and he 
could work on ’em himself. He had, I think, 

the second car in Newton, Iowa. But when 
he first went to Venice—there’s sand there, of 
course, sandy beach. And not knowing any 
better, he went on a Sunday. And there was a 
lot of traffic and difficult to park, so he drove 
off in the sand and parked. And of course, 
when it came time to leave, he couldn’t get out 
[laughing]. And the way he told the story—he 
was great at telling stories on himself; when 
he’d goof, you know, he’d get so mad at himself. 

But we lived there—my sister and I and 
my father and mother—and we had a lady that 
was a combination housekeeper, baby-sitter, 
whatever—named May Aydelott. She was 
with us for years and years and years. She was 
an old maid; they brought her out from Iowa, 
and she became just a member of the family, 
really took care of my sister and then me. 
And then when we were older, she just helped 
my mother. And then later, my grandmother 
moved to Venice, and May spent, oh, the last 
fifteen years or so with my grandmother. 
They associated just in the family till—I can’t 
remember who died first—my grandmother 
or May. But then it was one of those things; 
they were about the same age and so close 
that it was one died, and two months later the 
other one had died just— they were both old 
and feeble. 

Looking back, I can see that my mother 
was very vivacious and really a neat person, 
full of life. She entertained quite—she had a 
lot of lady friends. My father wasn’t too social; 
my mother was very social. In fact, she was 
voted at one time the “most popular girl” in 
Newton, Iowa. The church had a thing. Fact, 
she told me one time—. She used to go back 
a lot after we moved to California when she 
was homesick for her mother—her father died 
when she was very young, and her mother had 
died when I was just a baby, so I never knew 
her. But my mother had a brother back there, 
and also she had many, many, many friends 

Early Life, Education, First Gambling Experiences 


in Newton. So we had a kind of a pattern that 
shed go back about every summer for maybe a 
month. Looking back later, I could see that she 
was very homesick. She liked California—he 
loved California—but she liked it all right, but 
she was very homesick. So to cool her down, 
why, he permitted her—or encouraged her, I 
guess—to go back and stay about a month, 
which she just loved. And then after a month, 
why, she kind of had her fill and back wed go. 
And I remember those very vividly cause it 
was a new life—Iowa—to me after the sand 
and the—. The Midwest is beautiful in the 
summertime, the grassy lawns and the trees. 
Back in those days, of course, we went on the 
train, and that was just super—riding on the 
train and eating in the dining car—I loved 
that. But she did that for many years. 

Her brother didn’t amount to much. His 
name was Roy Fisk—her maiden name was 
Fisk. He was an awfully good man— friendly 
and lovable Uncle Roy. I liked him very much. 
But he’d been a ball player, and he was a very 
good ball player— a professional baseball 
player. And he got in the then— well, not in 
the major leagues, but I guess was as high in 
the minor leagues as you can get. I never saw 
him play, but he had a good reputation as a 
ball player. 

Then he married my Aunt Della, and 
they never had any children. Roy worked for 
Maytag. Of course, Maytag washing machine 
was the heart of Newton; still is, for that 
matter. But he worked for them, and then he 
never did very good. And finally my father, 
at I guess my mother’s urging, invited Roy to 
California. So my Aunt and Uncle Roy and 
Aunt Della drove to California in their 1923 
Buick, which I can remember perfectly. And 
they lived near us, and I liked [my uncle]; he 
was very friendly and all, but he just wasn’t 
any good working. He took advantage of my 
father because of the relationship, and he 

drank a lot. And so I remember I was just 
on the edges as a little child, but I remember 
Uncle Roy would just mess this up, so they’d 
move him over to another— my father had 
many things going. I guess I inherited that 
from him. Like he had various things on the 
Venice pier and parking lots and shooting 
galleries, one game—the “Dodge” game— 
which my Uncle Roy ran for a while, and on 
and on. But Roy would—he drank a lot, and 
I remember the “Dodge em — that was a 
money making thing. And Roy got in there, 
and he hired too much help. And they were 
actually running the place, and he was never 
there. He was drinking and messing around. 
And it started losing money just because of 
the heavy expenses. Roy was really bad news 
as long as he lived, to my mother and my—but 
that’s part of life, I guess. 

In getting back to Maytag, who was a 
quite—a very wealthy family—they were the 
family of Newton. And my mother, as I said, 
was the most popular girl, and she went with 
one of those sons, Elmer Maytag, for a while 
(I think it was Elmer— there were several of 
’em). He was very interested in my mother. I 
later met him, and he still liked her, too. But 
she preferred [Dad], even though he was a 
rich boy, and everything. She without any 
hesitation—I’ve been told by friends and all 
that she liked my father, and she didn’t want 
any part of Elmer, which, of course, was 
very nice. But then she used to kid me once 
in a while—said, “Your name could’ve been 
Maytag.” [Laughs] 

Well, Venice was a fun place to grow up in. 
We lived right on the water, and the climate was 
good. I swam most of the year, not all year. I can’t 
remember when I couldn’t swim. It’s just like— 
people say, “When did you learn to swim?” 

I’ll say, “When did I learn to walk? I just 
can’t remember when I couldn’t”.—and my 
sister the same way. 


William F. Harrah 

We lived in that home for oh, until I was 
maybe ten or twelve. Then we moved a couple 
of blocks up the street. I can remember where 
we lived by what kind of a car we drove cause 
[at] the second home we had a 1922 Franklin; 
so as I was born in 1911,1 was eleven when 
we moved there—thereabouts. And then the 
Boy Scouts—I was twelve—I loved the Boy 

Then my father became active in politics 
in Venice, and the reason he did was—. 
course, he became mayor, and I was the 
mayor’s son, which was really somethin’— 
why, it was pretty good. Looking back on it, 
he had no political ambition whatsoever. But 
the town was very corrupt. It wasn’t a part 
of Los Angeles then; it was an independent 
city. About everything from what I know 
now—there were just crookedness, and 
painting contracts, and—you name it—there 
was somethin’ goin’ on. So he worked hard 
to clean it up and didn’t get too far, so he 
ran for mayor—well, they called ’em trustees 
then, which were councilmen. He was 
councilman, and then he was elected mayor. 
I think he served two terms. He wasn’t the 
most popular because he didn’t— there were 
a lot of sleazy politicians that he didn’t fit in 

I remember in those days—well, it was 
almost full circle that they could print about 
anything in the paper about anybody, and 
you just couldn’t—. And the paper was 
owned by nobody; and if you sued them, 
you—you know. And I remember I used to 
read—nothing bothered my father, but my 
mother would really get upset. They would 
tell the story about—be in the headlines on 
the paper during the election, you know— the 
week before, “John Harrah was seen in this 
nightclub upstairs with this blonde,” and “he 
was drunk” and “his arm around her,” and all. 
And he never drank, ever in his whole life, 

and he didn’t mess around, and it was just, 
you know— he said, “Well, that’s crazy!” 

But she said, “I know it is, I know!” But 
she said, “But what’ll people think?” and all. 

Anyway, to get to the point, he got 
reelected as long as he wanted to be. But then 
it got to be so bad, he was so disappointed— 
what Venice could’ve been—he could see what 
it could’ve been—it could’ve been super. Like 
Santa Monica stayed out of Los Angeles. Los 
Angeles, like most big cities, wants to grab 
every inch around it. And it grabbed Venice. 
I remember they would have meetings—the 
annexation committee— and he would go, 
and he’d protest, and people would say oh, 
how wonderful it was gonna be when they 
went into Los Angeles. And it wasn’t; all it 
did was, they changed some of the good 
laws Venice had, and we paid our money 
to Los Angeles—our taxes. But my point is, 
Santa Monica didn’t enter. And at one time 
Venice was far superior, was larger than Santa 
Monica, and it was cleaner, and it was neater, 
and today, why, Santa Monica is one of the 
nicest little cities in southern California. It’s 
in the ball park with Beverly Hills. It’s just real 
neat, and it’s an independent city. But that’s 
what happened. 

But anyway, when they voted to go 
in and they went into Los Angeles, why, I 
remember his saying—I don’t remember the 
exact words—but he said, “That’s it,” he said, 
and he said, “I’m through here.” And he had 
property here, and he had property there and 
businesses here and businesses there, and 
he just sold ’em. No sacrifice, but someone 
wanted to buy em—’’Okay, here you are.” It 
wasn’t hard to deal with him. And he sold 
just about everything he had, and we moved 
to Hollywood, and by then he was in another 
line of business. He had gotten into the trust 
deed business, which was very lucrative. Are 
you familiar with a trust deed? 

Early Life, Education, First Gambling Experiences 


Well, there’s a mortgage—you know what 
a mortgage is— a piece of real estate. Well, 
then a trust deed is very similar to a mortgage, 
but there’s a few different laws concerning it. 
So you can take a piece of property, and you 
can get a trust deed on it instead of a mortgage 
[if] you want to borrow money. But usually 
a trust deed is a secondary mortgage, but it’s 
seen for some legal reason. But at least in 
California, a piece of property was mortgaged, 
and then the people wanted some more 
money, and either the mortgage or mortgagor 
didn’t want to enlarge the mortgage—then 
they would get trust deeds which in effect was 
the secondary mortgage. But then they went 
in that order. So if, say, the property owner 
didn’t pay—defaulted on the trust deed, the 
trust deed owner could go in and take the 
owner’s position; so the trust deed owner 
became the owner of the property, subject to 
the mortgage. 

So my father and a man named Johnny 
Moore, who was a brilliant man—which 
was part of my education. He was one of 
the smartest men I ever met, and he’d never 
gone to grammar school. He just had it as far 
as real estate was concerned—just a genius. 
They were partners, and they made a good, 
good team. They made a lot of money. What 
they did was, they would buy a trust deed, 
like a five-thousand-dollar trust deed; and 
somebody needed money real fast, which 
happened. They advertised for them—okay, 
“trust deeds bought.” So here you come with 
a five-thousand-dollar trust deed on a piece of 
property, say worth fifty-thousand dollars and 
add maybe a twenty-five-thousand- or twenty- 
thousand-dollar mortgage on. So they would 
buy the trust deed, and the five-thousand 
or forty-two-hundred sum real fast. And, “I 
need the money” [claps hands], “Here you 
are.” And then they would—whatever made 
sense—acquire the property or take their time 

and sell the trust deed at market value. And 
they were very careful, I remember. 

Johnny Moore, my father’s partner, 
couldn’t drive a car, and so a lot of my time 
was spent in driving him around. My father’d 
be doing—and I would drive Johnny Moore 
somewhere, which was really fun. And I 
remember [chuckles] Johnny and I loved to 
drive fast. And Johnny Moore was diabetic, 
which I learned somethin’ about health from 
him, as he later died from it. He had terrible 
eating habits. But it affected his eyesight, 
so he couldn’t—he could look at a piece of 
property— you’d take him to Saugus, or 
somethin’, and he could see the layout of the 
[property], and he could see where this was 
and that was, and here’s the building where— 
and he could appraise it down to a dime. But 
he couldn’t see small, so he couldn’t read the 
speedometer. So I would drive him up there, 
we’d be bouncin’ along pretty good in one of 
the Franklins. Their top speed was sixty (and 
I always drove sixty [laughs]), and Johnny’d 
be shakin a little bit, and he’d say, “Bill!” He 
said, “I can’t quite see what that speedometer 
says. How fast are we going?” 

I said, “Oh, we’re goin forty-two, Johnny.” 

He said, “Well, okay.” [Laughs] He never 
did know! 

But anyway, they did very well. We moved 
to Hollywood, and we had a lovely home 
there that I liked very much. Then when the 
Depression came, why it changed everything. 
But I can come into that later. 

Oh, that’s enough on Venice and the early 
days, isn’t it? 

Mary Ellen Glass: You went to school there, 
too, though. 

Oh, gee whiz, yeah, yeah. That was neat. 
I went to Florence Nightingale grammar 
school, and it was a big thing. I was a timid 


William F. Harrah 

little kid, and I don’t understand why; I was 
just scared of my shadow Other little kids just 
went to school, and then the year before I went 
to school, I worried about it. What I worried 
about was not going to school; I worried about 
not doing the right thing. I wanted to do the 
right thing; I really worried about it. So I can 
almost still remember my first day of school. 
And I think my mother or May Aydelott took 
me and got me in the right room and all. And 
I lived nearby the school, so I was supposed 
to go home at lunch—all of which I knew. So 
I got in my little desk, and I sat there. And 
so they had recess, and they didn’t—no one 
said it was recess; I guess everybody knew or 
maybe they did say it, but I missed it. And I 
thought it was lunch time, so I went home at 
ten in the morning. And so my mother was 
surprised to see me and thought there was a 
big problem and, “What’s the matter?” I said 
I came home for lunch. “Well, it’s only ten 
o’clock.” And then everybody figured out it 
was recess. 

So then I had to go back, and that was ten 
times worse than going the first time because 
I came back—I guess my mother took me 
back—and here this room was full of kids. 
And it’s in session, the teacher’s there, and 
Bill had to come in. 

But I liked my little school, and I did 
very well. I loved school. So the first grade 
and the second grade—it was a two-room 
schoolhouse, which I loved very much. Well 
rather than two-room, they had two rooms, 
and they had two classes in each room. So 
then I would be in the lower—you know the 
story. The class above me—I knew mine, and 
then I would listen to theirs; so then when 
I got up there, I already knew it. So I was 
outstanding compared to what they had; I 
was very good. So then I had some teacher 
that said I was so good, I should move up. 
And there was no place to go in that school; 

so they sent me to another school, Martha 
Washington, which was right in downtown 
Venice, only east a little bit. But it was a big 
school compared to my little school. And I 
went there, and the school had already started 
when they transferred me. And so everyone 
was a stranger, and everything was new, and 
it was just total disaster. I hated it, and they 
weren’t too thrilled with having me because 
I was kind of a misfit. So I remember those 
days just—that lasted about a month, and I 
just hated every day. 

And then finally, my folks figured out 
what was goin’ on, so they got me back in my 
little Florence Nightingale. And then I was 
real happy. So that went through the sixth 
grade, and then it was the Venice High School, 
which was a nice high school. And there was 
a Venice Junior High School, and I went to 
Venice Junior High, which I liked very much. 
And we took the streetcar to go to that. By 
then we’d moved up to the other part of Venice 
on Sunset Avenue. But it was just a half a block 
to the streetcar tracks. The Pacific Electric was 
quite an extensive streetcar system. Then, you 
know, they went from downtown Los Angeles 
clear out to Santa Monica and Venice, and you 
could go the other way—you could go clear to 
San Bernardino. It was several hundred miles 
you could ride on this Pacific Electric; it was 
a big thing. 

So the streetcar I took to high school was 
the regular streetcar, rode the line from Venice 
to Los Angeles. And the junior high school 
and the high school was about oh, two or three 
miles, four miles towards Los Angeles from 
Venice. And they had a special they ran every 
morning—three or four cars, and it was all full 
of high school kids. I remember the worst job, 
I think, in the world, was being the conductor 
on the special. There were some real smarty 
kids that just rang the bells and put caps on 
the tracks and put the brakes on, and they’d 

Early Life, Education, First Gambling Experiences 


get so crazy [laughing], those conductors, and 
it was a—. 

But anyway, Venice Junior High I liked 
that very much and had some good teachers 
there—at least I liked them. And that’s when I 
found out that I was never gonna be an athlete. 
Playing around—like I could swim real good, 
and I could ride my bicycle real good. I could 
do anything the other kids could do that we 
played. Baseball, I’ve played a little, and I 
was just as good as the other kids. Then I got 
into junior high school, and I was very—you 
know—I was six-foot-three and a hundred 
and thirty pounds or something. And I was 
reasonably fast but very weak; I couldn’t lift 
anything or—anything. So I had learned 
pretty fast I wasn’t gonna be an athlete, which 
didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t really care for 
football or anything; I liked baseball. 

But I remember in the Boy Scouts, which 
I already said I dearly loved—and I was a 
Tenderfoot and a Second Class and a First 
Class. And these merit badges—I had merit 
badges up and down both my arms [gestures], 
and I just loved the Boy Scouts. But the one 
I couldn’t get was “athletics.” You had to run 
so fast and jump so high, and that was one 
that you had to get to be an Eagle Scout—I 
had all the others—and I just couldn’t run 
fast enough or jump high enough. Well, for 
people like me, then, you could get a merit 
badge in “physical development,” which they 
would check you as of certain date; and then 
six months or a year later you had to show 
that you had developed physically. And I 
really tried for that one, too. I exercised and 
ran, and at the end of six months I was just 
the same [laughing]! So I never got to be an 
Eagle Scout, and that’s one of the big regrets 
in my life. I would’ve just given anything to 
have been an Eagle Scout. 

Getting back to the car, I guess—the 
Scouts reminds me, I had a Hudson I was 

driving, and so I had kind of an in with 
the scoutmaster because I had a car at my 
disposal. I guess I was old enough to drive. But 
I learned to drive when I was urn—let’s see— 
somethin’ like eight years old. I remember 
we went to Big Bear—that’s a mountain area 
in southern California. We went there every 
summer, which was real neat because living 
at the beach—and then summertime, you 
don’t want to go to the beach, so we’d go to 
the mountains. And we would rent a cabin up 
there—I think we went three years and maybe 
even four—and they called ’em housekeeping 
cabins. It was a two-cabin, had a little kitchen 
and all, and we would move up there for a 
month or six weeks—my father and mother 
and May and my sister. We lived there, and 
we’d set up our kitchen and refrigerator and 
everything. And my father would go to Los 
Angeles. And generally, he’d go on Monday, 
come back on Friday. And then sometimes 
he’d be there during the week. He was a lawyer, 
and maybe he wasn’t too busy; he loved it 
up there like we all did. There were very few 
people up there then. 

I think he was driving a Chalmers at 
the time. But he’d found an old Hudson 
somewhere. It was about a 1911 Hudson. It 
was right-hand drive, which in those days, 
in 1916, was a funny-lookin’ car because 
everything else was left-hand drive. And the 
old Hudson—it was right-hand drive, and you 
had to crank it to start it. And I could drive it 
fine, although I couldn’t see over the steering 
wheel. But I could drive it. But I couldn’t start 
it ’cause I was so little. So I would park it on a 
hill—this was with my father’s okay—and I’d 
park it on a hill, and then after breakfast or 
somethin’ I’d want to go to the store for my 
mother, or just go for a ride. I’d go out and 
coast the Hudson down the hill a ways and let 
the clutch out and away it would go—’’chug, 
chug, chug, chug, chug.” So like if I did go to 


William F. Harrah 

the store—of course, the store we went to, it 
was on a hill, so I had no problem there. But 
anyplace where it was level, then I would very 
carefully keep the engine running because if 
it stopped, I was dead. [Laughs] I liked that 
old Hudson; that was a fun car. 

But Big Bear was a great experience up 
there because of the—to get up there was an 
old, narrow road, and you had to have a pretty 
good car to get up there. It was real interesting 
to me, the cars that could make it and the cars 
that couldn’t. Quite often the real fancy cars 
didn’t do as well as the Dodges and things, 
which, course, was a part of the interesting 

Another thing I remember about Big Bear 
was the pine trees. See, it was about, I think, 
6,000 feet—just about what Tahoe is. It had 
these pine trees in the forest and all and the 
pine nuts and the pine cones and the squirrels, 
all of which was entirely new to me. And I can 
still remember that. That was very enjoyable. 

I remember they had one place at Big 
Bear—see, it was tiny, maybe just a few 
hundred people there at this time. The Pine 
Nut Lodge was the main store, and they got 
ice cream, I think, once or twice a week. And 
the big thing—like Tuesday or Thursday or 
whenever it was—and we’d go down and get 
ice cream. I can still remember that. 

Then we moved to Hollywood in 1926. 
And the timing was just perfect for me 
because I finished junior high school in June 
of ’26 and started at Hollywood High School 
in September of ’26. And the first grade of 
high school was seventh grade, so it was just— 
fit real neat. My sister, course, had finished 
high school, I believe—yeah, she finished 
Venice. And she was one of those—you may 
have had that experience if you have sisters 
or brothers—older ones. She was a straight-A 
student; actually everything was A’s and with 
not too much effort. And so I come along 

and William Harrah—”Oh! You Margaret’s 


“Oh, I expect great things from you, 
William.” If I heard that once, I heard it a 
hundred times. I always got along great with 
my sister, but if I ever had any hard feelings, 
that was one of them. Some A’s were pretty 
easy for me like mathematics and all, but some 
weren’t so easy, and she got ’em all. 

But she, having gotten out of high school 
in Venice, then wanted to go to college. I 
don’t know why she went to Mills College 
in Berkeley, whether it was friends or school 
chums or maybe just wanted to get away from 
home. But she went to Mills for, I think, one 
or two years, and she liked it pretty good. 
Then she switched to UCLA, where she got 
in a sorority and got a little social life. And 
she lived in Hollywood with us, ’26—yeah, 
she was in Hollywood a little later. I guess she 
was gone, yeah, the first couple of years. 

I went to Hollywood High School, which 
I loved Hollywood High School. I thought 
I was really somebody going to Hollywood 
High. And by then I had my own car, which 
was a big event in my life—a 1926 Chevrolet, 
which I have a duplicate of in the Collection. 
My father was wonderful to me where money 
was concerned, or things that I wanted. 

There was one time when I was very 
young, maybe six or seven or something; 
and I asked him one time—oh, I remember, 
it was my second bicycle—my Ranger bicycle, 
which I had a bicycle he’d given me, and it 
was a second-hand bicycle. It was a pretty 
good bicycle, but I wanted a new one. So in 
June of—I must have been eight or nine—I 
said, “In September, my birthday, can I have 
a new bicycle?” I knew the one I wanted; I 
don’t know if I told him that. Yeah, well, I 
guess I did. I wanted a Ranger Moto Bike, it 
was called; it looked like a motorcycle, and it 

Early Life, Education, First Gambling Experiences 


was just the super-bike of the time. I still think 
it was. And I had a catalog on it, and I was 
all excited. I remember it cost sixty dollars, 
which was a lot of money. And I said, “For 
my birthday can I have a Ranger Moto Bike?” 

And he said, “Oh, somethin’ I want to tell 
you, Bill.” He said, “Birthdays and Christmas,” 
he said, “those are for— they’re okay—the 
present giving,” he said, “but that’s mostly 
for your mother and your sister. They like to 
make big things out of the holidays and the 
birthdays. But,” he said, “you and I,” he said, 
“anything you want that I can afford that 
your friends have—most your friends have 
somewhere,” he said, “you can have. If I can 
afford it, you can have it.” And he says, “Just 
ask me for it, and we’ll go get it.” And he said, 
“You can’t have any better than your friends, 
but no worse.” He said, “I just want you to stay 
even with everybody.” And he said, “Just ask 
me, and we’ll do it.” 

So he said, “Let’s go get the Ranger;” this 
was in June. I remember we drove to L.A., 
and bought the bike. I remember it was sixty 
dollars, and he wrote out a check. I thought 
at the time, “Gee, it’s wonderful havin’ a rich 
father!” [Laughs] 

But then when it came time for the car—. 
The first car was—I just wanted a car, and 
it had to be a low-priced car; I knew that 
without talking or discussing it. So all there 
was at the time was—well, there was Ford 
and Chevrolet and Star. And I’d studied 
them, of course, every inch, and I preferred 
the Chevrolet for several reasons. So he 
went down and bought me a 1926 Chevrolet 
roadster. I think it was six hundred dollars, 
somethin’ like that. And that was a big thrill. 
It had to be ordered, I remember; it was a 
new model, so they didn’t have any in stock. 
And it had to come in from the East in the 
freight car. And I remember I went down to 
the dealer’s shop every day—maybe twice a 

day. “Where’s my car? Where’s my car? There’s 
my car?” 

And I guess I really must’ve bugged them 
’cause I went down one day, and I walked in; 
they said, “Your car’s here! Your car’s here!” 

I—”Wow! There is it?” Well, it was. It had 
just come in on the freight car, hadn’t been 
unloaded and all. And they—to get rid of me, 
I think—at the time I thought they were being 
nice, but I think it was to get rid of me—”So 
why don’t you go down and help ’em unload 
it?” which of course, I did. And what a thrill 
that was to go to the freight car, and here’s the 
little Chevy roadster all jacked up. And we 
pulled it out and towed it out and put water 
and gas in it, and away it went. And then I 
dolled it all up. I can remember every single 
thing I did to it—I changed this, changed that, 
changed this—a lot of details I won’t bother 
the story with. 

The car’s in the Collection. Well, a few 
little things, like, I always wanted a neat- 
lookin’ car, so it had a single spare, and I put 
two spares on it, and I lowered it. And nickel 
plated—they had lights and put extra lights—I 
think I had thirteen lights on the front end of 
it. It was really dolled up. 

I didn’t hop it up any, and looking back, I 
don’t understand that. It’s the only car I ever 
owned till recently that I didn’t hop up. I put a 
straight pipe—exhaust pipe—on it, some fancy 
horns, but I didn’t do a thing to it to speed it up. 
And it would go fifty-five miles an hour, and 
I drove it at fifty-five [laughs] miles an hour a 
lot of the time, and— which doesn’t sound as 
crazy as what it sounds in town, because there 
wasn’t very much traffic then. And, of course, 
I was a super driver with—a sixteen-year-old 
kid has coordination you wouldn’t believe, you 
know. Even with my little two-wheel brakes, I 
could do all sorts of things. 

But then staying on cars, my next car 
was a ’29 Ford Cabriolet. And that’s the one I 


William F. Harrah 

hopped up—well, the first one I hopped up, 
which was—Model A Ford—was fifty-five to 
sixty-five miles an hour—and mined do about 
sixty I put overhead valves on, so it would do 
eighty And so I drove it eighty! [Laughs] And 
it was so funny’ I would get arrested quite 
a bit, I think it was on an average of once a 
week, in southern California ’cause I drove so 
fast. And being a juvenile, they couldn’t fine 
me. So they would take me down—the only 
thing—I guess they still do it today. I had to 
go downtown to a juvenile officer and go in 
and sit down. It was like being punished in 
school. And he went, “da da da da da da da” 
[shakes finger]. He knew just what he was 
going to say, and he knew I knew what he was 
going to say. But he had to do it, and I had to 
listen, so it would be ten or fifteen minutes of 
bawling out. And then when he’d get through, 
he’d say, “Now you’re gonna slow—.” 

I said, “Oh, yes sir. I’m gonna slow down.” 
So then I’d go out. Next week I’d be sitting in 
the same chair hearing the same lecture! 

So that went on and on, and I think my 
mother had to take me down or something, 
it was quite a nuisance. So my father got wind 
of it. So he’s the lawyer, and he liked to speak 
his piece. So he really thought it was kind of 
dumb anyway—my going down. It was just 
those spinning wheels, you know. They were 
accomplishing nothing; I was accomplishing 
nothing. So he wrote ’em a letter. It was a 
very nice, legal letter; but he got his point 
across—’’So-and-so, and you’re bringing my 
boy down there, da da da da da. Why don’t 
you quit pickin’ on him, leave him alone, or 
something. John Harrah”—which Harrah is 
an unusual name. But there was a policeman, 
a detective in the L.A. police department at 
the time, and I think was even in the juvenile 
division. But he had nothing to do with the 
traffic; it was other. But his name why, “Oh, 
wow!” So it put a red flag on it. 

So because of my father’s so-called nasty 
letter, whoever came up before said, “Well, we 
don’t want to bother with that Harrah kid any 
more. Let’s refer everything to juvenile court 
from here on, every time.” 

So I remember the juvenile court was on 
the top floor of the Hall of Justice, which you 
see on TV many times. The Hall of Justice is 
still there. When you see a detective movie in 
L.A., why, they wind up on the Hall of Justice. 
And I don’t know—it was the eighth floor or 
somethin’. I had to go to juvenile court every 
time. And it was so ridiculous. My mother had 
to go, which really upset her. And I remember 
one time it was really funny, looking back. But 
I went, and was sittin’ there with the other 
“defendants.” And they brought them in. I 
came in with my mother, but they brought 
them in from jail. They had handcuffs on, 
and one was a rapist, and one was a murder 
suspect—real bad kids. And you could look— 
it was just terrible—and I’m sittin’ there right 
next to them. 

So they called one and—murder one— 
and then his defense, “Oh, blah, blah, blah.” 
So they postponed it. And then the second 
one was somethin’—assault, and attacking 
girls and everything. So then, okay, “William 
Harrah. Faulty muffler.” [Laughs] That was 
the judge. He started to say, “What the hell is 
this?” but he caught himself. He said, “What 
in heaven’s name is a boy doing in this court 
for a faulty muffler?” And of course, the 
prosecutor had to try and explain it. And 
the judge was kind of mad. And he said, 
“Well, blah, blah, blah. This boy and his 

“Well, he’s not here for speeding. He’s here 
for a faulty muffler—most ridiculous thing I 
ever saw! Case dismissed!” Which I was very 
thrilled, ’cause it was—made me nervous goin’ 
to court. I didn’t mind goin to the other place, 
but goin to court was scary. But I remember 

Early Life, Education, First Gambling Experiences 


my mother and my father got a big kick out 
of that. 

You skipped rather fast over some of your school 
days. I wondered, since you were so interested 
in engineering and mathematics, and your 
business sense has been so well developed, if 
you recalled something from your school days 
that might have —. 

Oh, I see, yeah. Well, math was always fun 
and still is. But I know I liked any subject—any 
exact—like math was “two and two is four,” 
period. And when it got into “maybe” and all, 
it wasn’t nearly as interesting. So I remember 
math and physics was very interesting to me 
just because of that. So then I did, I liked math. 
I remember chemistry and I didn’t get along 
too good, which was my own fault. 

But in high school I just took what other 
people—I had no idea where I was going or 
what I was gonna do. And most kids didn’t. 
There were a few that did, and I always kind of 
was jealous of them or at least admired them, 
that they had a direction. And my father didn’t 
give me any—you know—many people would 
say, “Well, your grandpa’s a lawyer, and your 
father’s a lawyer; you’re gonna be a lawyer.” 

And my father right from the start said, 
“This is a lousy business. So if you want to be 
a lawyer, be a lawyer, but,” he said, “no way 
am I gonna—” he said, “you do whatever you 
want to do.” 

And from what I’d seen of the law 
business, there was—I looked at it like I guess 
most kids do—of the courtroom stuff, which, 
of course, most law isn’t; but that’s what I saw. 
And courtroom to me was always bad news 
and screamin’, and yellin’, and da da da da da; 
and I thought, “I don’t want to spend my life 
that way. I want to get up, and when I go to 
work, I want look forward, happy—oh boy, 
I’m gonna be nice to people. I’m going to be 

pleasing them rather than fightin’ with them 
[gestures fist fight] .” 

My father was a very good lawyer in that 
he—it didn’t bother him at all. He prepared— 
he was in the law firm for years (Harrah, 
Lewis, and Blodgett was the name in Los 
Angeles) The three of’em were quite different. 
Lewis was excellent in court. Blodgett was 
good in criminal cases. My father was the 
guy that dug it out of the books and prepared 
the cases. He was very capable in court, but 
mostly he did the work. So when Harrah, 
Lewis, and Blodgett appeared in court, they 
were well prepared. 

But he didn’t really like it, and he got into 
so many other things. Well, like the Venice 
Investment Company’s a good story. Was 
living in Venice; he didn’t practice in Venice. 
He practiced in Los Angeles, as I told you. 
But there was a George Cleveland, who was a 
very interesting man, in Venice—a go-getter, 
another man with no education but a real 
genius business-wise. And he had a theater, 
a movin’ picture theater. And someone else 
had a movin’ picture theater, and George 
thought it’d be a good idea to start a chain. I 
think maybe there were three theaters. So they 
wanted to form a partnership or a business 
association of some kind. And this was six o 
clock at night or something. 

“Where can we get a lawyer?” Well, I guess 
there were a couple of lawyers in Venice, and 
somebody knew my father, and they called 
him. “Could you come in? This is a big deal 
for me. I’m a very good friend. And we know 
you’re home (da da da), but we just need—we 
wanna put this deal together tonight. Can you 
come in and draw up the papers?” 

And my father—yes, he went to this 
meeting. So they were goin’ along, and they 
were formin’ this—well, maybe there were 
four or five theaters—I guess there were—and 
four or five partners. So this man’s theater 


William F. Harrah 

was worth fifty thousand, and this man’s 
theater was worth eighty thousand, and this 
man— and all. Say, they were shootin’ for 
five hundred; and they had some money, but 
their whole thing—they were about fifteen or 
twenty thousand dollars short of what they 
needed to form this company, the Venice 
Investment Company 

So my father said, “Gee, this looks pretty 
good to me.” He said, “I’ll put in twenty if you 
want me as a partner.” 

And they said, “Oh, love to have you, 

So he put in the twenty, which was a shock 
to (huh!) my mother and all. It was “Gee, 
we’re in the theater business!” And it was so 
neat. It was a good company, and this George 
was just a super guy. And they opened other 
theaters. These were Venice; Ocean Park, 
which is between Venice and Santa Monica; 
Santa Monica, and Hermosa Beach, Redondo 
Beach, and somewhere else. I think they had 
eight or ten. 

And movies in those days, then, or no 
TV or anything— that was a big thing. They 
had first-run movies, of course. And my 
father being one of the owners, we all had 
passes. I had a pass, and my mother and my 
grandmother had a pass. And they were for 
loge seats, too, and I remember what a thrill 
it was having that pass. 

But I also learned something about 
business from that ’cause after they started 
with four or five theaters, or maybe three, 
then they opened four or five more. And we 
would go to all the theater openings. And 
there was nobody actually runnin’ the thing, 
and it was just kinda second—I mean the 
actual building, the theater. When they were 
finished, they were good theaters. They were 
well designed, but there was no time table. 
And I remember it would drive me up the 
wall. I remember when the one in Ocean Park 

opened—and when it was like, supposed to 
open at seven o’clock at night, and on such a 
night. And they had the searchlight in the air 
and the huge crowd and all. And we went up; 
and because of who we were, we went right 
in at quarter to seven—my father, my mother, 
and all— and went in, and they only had half 
of the chairs down. And there were workmen 
there, and they were screwin’ the chairs down 
and not goin’—you know, a row every twenty 
minutes or so. And so I could just instantly 
see that it was gonna be midnight, you know, 
before their evening. And I was horrified! 
Just what a terrible—I was embarrassed. And 
it didn’t bother my father a bit. He just, you 
know, that’s the way it was. 

And I didn’t get into to it too much then, 
but it happened over and over. Every theater 
opening was total disaster. It was—they 
opened about two days before they should. 
And I remember getting into it, and I was 
always with him, and try to learn, too. And I 
said, “Why don’t you get the seats down before 

He said, “Oh, so what? What got hurt? 
The people saw the movie, didn’t they, didn’t 
they?”—you know, all of which was true, but 
it was lousy. 

And I said, “Well, shouldn’t we have 
planned a little better?” 

“Oh, poohy.” He just—. 

And he wasn’t too good with the general 
public. His thinkin’ and mine on the general 
public—he never called ’em suckers or 
anything, but he just—. He didn’t want to 
cheat ’em, but he didn’t want to give ’em too 
much. I remember the Circle Game in Venice, 
that’s in the ’30s. But when he built that—and 
he built it just as cheap as he could—he had 
twelve-dollar stools. And I’ll never forget our 
competition had thirty-dollar stools, and they 
were padded real soft, and ours were hard and 
cheesy-lookin’. And I remember I complained 

Early Life, Education, First Gambling Experiences 


about the stools, and my father said, “What? 
You want better stools? Why? You know, you 
can sit on that.” 

I says, “Look at Carpenter’s stool, his 
beautiful stool!” Well, then, he couldn’t see 
that at all. It was a total waste of money. 

And the Bingo parlor’s the same thing. 
Robbins, who were up here—you know. Ed 
Robbins, I guess, is still around; but Ed and 
Harry were our competitors down there, and 
they were really operators. And they had— 
Robbins Palace is what they called their 
Bingo parlors. And they were just beautiful 
with chandeliers and super soft chairs; and 
they were expensive, of course, but they were 
just beautiful. And ours were just terrible 
lookin’. That’s somethin’ my father could 
never see. 

Hollywood High was—I can remember 
that. And I can remember my first day, which 
was scary; but I got into it right— real fast. 
And I met some friends, some who are still 
my friends—the ones that haven’t died. They 
were my closest friends in Hollywood High 
School. I made friends at UCLA, but my true 
friends were at Hollywood High School. 

I loved the school. And we had a football 
team that was just fair, but we had a good 
school spirit. Our colors were red and white. 
I went to all the football games. And there 
was a football coach that I liked very much, 
and I wasn’t a football player at all—Vic Kelly. 
He was part Indian, and he was an excellent 
coach. And I remember he wore beautiful 
clothes which I’ve always been a clothes 
freak. But most football coaches at that time 
dressed in sweatshirts and things, and Vic 
Kelly always had a brand new suit on. He 
came there, and our team was pretty low, and 
after a year or two he brought us up. And one 
year we won the championship—the L. A. city 
championship. We played maybe eight games 
and won ’em all. And I can still remember 

that, when Hollywood High School won the 

I said earlier, I was kinda weak, but I did 
understand cars and motors and things. And 
they had a Fordson tractor at the school that 
they used to plow the football field, level it, 
and so on. And I was the only one that could 
start the Fordson tractor; it was kind of balky. 
And there’s a little trick to starting that with a 
little old quick flip, and having the spark and 
everything just right. And you had to crank it, 
and I could crank it. And I remember what a 
thrill it was; one of the janitors could crank it, 
but when he was unavailable or something, I 
remember more than once I’d be sitting in one 
of my classes, and a messenger would come 
and interrupt the teacher. The messenger 
would say, “Vic Kelly 

I wants Bill Harrah on the football field 
right away [laughing]. 

And the teacher’d say, “Dismissed” or 
“Excused, William.” And away I’d go like 
this [gesture strutting]. Vic Kelly wanted Bill 
Harrah. And I’d go down and start the tractor 
for him. [Laughs] That was fun. 

But at Hollywood I made friends, and 
there was [Bradstreet] Brad Miller and Todd 
Brown—are two close ones. And then others’ll 
come out. Todd is gone, and Brad is still alive. 
He lives in Los Angeles. He’s still a very close 
friend. I see him once or twice a year. We 

Digressing a little bit—well, it’s the same 
period—see, I started at Hollywood in ’26. 
And I met Brad—oh, that was interesting—I’d 
known Brad in Venice. And he had moved 
to Hollywood the same time I did—just 
coincidence. (Yeah, that’s where I knew him.) 
Anyway, he and I had planned this way ahead, 
I’m sure, but in 1926 we took a trip. He had 
a 1925 Model T Ford. That’s before I got my 
Chevrolet. So in the summer of’26 we drove 
his Model T. We just—he and I took a trip 


William F. Harrah 

with his father and my father’s permission 
for ten-day—two-week—trip in the Model 
T Ford—just two boys. Brad’s a year older 
than I am, so I was fifteen, he was sixteen— 
in his Model T Ford. And we drove from 
Hollywood north through Bakersfield, and 
then we went up through Yosemite Park 
and over Tioga Pass and into Reno and 
back through Sacramento (and he had some 
relatives near Sacramento) , and then back 
to L.A. And it was very exciting, I being 
a car person, and to drive that far. course 
Brad—and we are extremely good friends— 
but I drove us only to—a Model T. Ford, 
if you know how to drive a Model T Ford, 
there was this pedal on the left—that’s your 
gears— and you push the pedal clear to the 
floor, and that’s low. Half up back is neutral, 
and all the way back is high. So, of course, 
most of the time you’re driving in high gear. 
Then you come to a Model T Ford—a good 
one will climb a lot of hills in high gear very 
well. But you come to a very steep hill, and 
you have to go into low, and you have to 
hold it with your foot down—your left foot. 
And it vibrates a little bit, and to hold it for 
ten minutes or something, it becomes very 
wearing. And then you try your right foot, 
and it’s very—it’s not much fun. 

So learning to drive like I did—. So we 
started out, and Brad was driving; it was 
his car. And from L.A. to—I don’t think we 
made Bakersfield the first day. You know, 
thirty miles an hour was pretty good, and 
a Ford, thirty-five. But he drove, and that’s 
fine. I didn’t think of driving; but I thought 
just without—subconsciously—I’m sure I 
thought, “Well, I’ll be driving from time to 
time.” But I didn’t get to drive, and I didn’t get 
to drive and I didn’t get to drive, and I didn’t 
get to drive. And I didn’t ask, but it was really 
growin’ on me, and I wasn’t quite as friendly 
to Brad as I was. Here he’s doin’ all the drivin’, 

and I’m just sittin. Very disappointing, very 

So then in Yosemite, and we camped out 
and all. And then we started over Tioga, which 
is very steep. So he drove to just where he had 
to go into low, and he was really smart. Just 
before he got there, he said, “Oh, Bill, would 
you like to drive?” 

I said, “Oh, whee, yes!” [Laughs] So I got 
in and maybe drove twenty feet, then had 
to go into low because of the hill. I guess he 
knew the road or somethin’. So I went up that 
darn thing, and it was maybe ten miles or 
something just in this Model T Ford and low 
gear, so that’s a half an hour, forty-five minutes 
in low. And one foot, and the other foot, and 
da da da da, workin’. But I’m drivin’ the car; 
it’s kinda—but my feet are gettin’ so tired. 
And I couldn’t wait to get—I knew the road a 
little, too. Eventually it leveled out; and wow, 
I could get to drivin’. So it got to the top, and 
it leveled out; and I just started to shift into 
high, and Brad says, “Okay, I’ll take it now.” 

And I thought, “What a dirty guy!” So, it 
kinda—from then on, our friendship wasn’t 
really the best. We got along, but the last few 
days of the trip he drove the whole thing. 
And we didn’t talk too much, and it was 
extremely—I’ve told him many times. 

But we came to Reno, and I remember 
Reno in 1926.1 don’t remember any casinos, 
but I wasn’t lookin’ for any. But we stayed—I 
don’t know if the motel’s still there. We found 
a motel between Reno and Sparks—and it was 
cheap, of course. And there weren’t too many; 
they called them somethin’ else then. What’d 
they call ’em? 

Auto camps. 

Yeah, auto camp, yeah. And it wasn’t 
too bad, but it was very cheap. And we were 

Early Life, Education, First Gambling Experiences 


thrilled, you know, staying, cause wed been 
camping out quite a bit. 

I remember we stayed in Bridgeport in a 
hotel there. I don’t know if it’s still there, that 
old Bridgeport hotel. 

That was very funny—the Model T Ford 
with its planetary transmission. And the 
gears—it’s always really in gear. And there’s a 
lot of oil in there. And a Ford, you start a Ford 
that’s cold—the Model T Ford—and with oil 
in the transmission it’ll move forward. And 
you can hold it back till the oil warms up, but 
it will automatically, you know—you watch 
out—you crank a Ford, and it’ll start moving 

Well, Brad in Bridgeport—and it was in 
July, I’m sure, And we got there maybe at 
night, not late, but dusk, and this Bridgeport 
hotel, whatever it was. We went—they had a 
room, and it was a nice room. We were very 
delighted—had dinner. And he parked the 
Ford, and he pointed it against the hotel. All 
the other cars were, but they had conventional 
transmission to them, with a neutral. And of 
course, this car you had to self-start it before 
it did. 

But then the next morning Brad went 
to start it, and it was very cold. You know, 
Bridgeport in July, it got way down. So the 
oil’s very cold. So he went to start it, and it 
wouldn’t start because the starter couldn’t 
turn ’cause the Ford would push against the 
hotel. [Chuckles] And it was up there, and 
so he was very embarrassed and very mad 
because his wonderful little Ford wouldn’t 
start. And, of course, by then I wasn’t too 
friendly, anyway, and I was going, “Huh huh 
huh” [folds arms]. 

So then, what you do with that, in a case 
like that, you jack up one of the rear wheels, 
and which is good as jackin’ em both up; and 
that wheel can turn. And so the engine, the 
transmission, the drive shaft—everything 

turns. And you can start it, and then it’ll warm 
up; and then you can stop the wheel and jack 
it down and drive it away, which we did. But 
he was very embarrassed with his little Ford. 
And the other cars were just cornin’ out and 
startin’ their cars and drivin’ away, and here 
the Ford wouldn’t start. 

But I remember, for dinner we had a little 
money. Brad’s father was—he was a wealthy 
man. He was very cheap. And I never liked 
him too much, and I don’t think Brad did 
either. But Brad’s father and mother were 
divorced, which was unusual in those days. 
And his father was very bitter. Brad reminded 
him of his mother or somethin’, so he would 
just—. Brad had another brother that got 
treated a little better than Brad did, a younger 

But I remember, like for the trip, I went 
to my father and said, “Da da da, I’m going 
here and I need some money.” And he knew 
I wanted to go, and I had permission. 

He said, “What do you think you need?” 
And I don’t remember the numbers exactly, 
but just for numbers, say oh, maybe eight 
dollars a day for ten days is eighty dollars— 
just two of us that would be. 

And he said, “Well, how’s a hundred or 
somethin’?”—you know—’’Here you are.” 

And then we went to Brad’s father. And 
well, he had it all figured out, you know—fifty 
cents a day for gas and twelve cents for this. 
And I think he gave thirty dollars. And Brad 
was very embarrassed, and I don’t know if I 
was there or near. And Brad didn’t tell him 
that my father’d given me a hundred; I don’t 
think he gave him over forty or fifty dollars, 
and that was—just a real cheap guy. And he 
had so much money. Brad suffered all through 
his childhood. He was always kind of a second 
class to the rest of us because of his father. And 
Brad hustled good, which maybe—maybe it 
helped him that way. 


William F. Harrah 

But when I got—this leads to this other 
story—then I’ll go back. On my Model A 
Ford—’29—which cost eight hundred and 
some dollars, which was quite a bit. That was 
a Cabriolet, a fancy body style. And at the 
time—well, it was time for a car; I’d been sick, 
which I’ll get into later. And it was time for 
a new car. So my father says, “What do you 

And I said, “I’d like a Chrysler 72.” That’s 
a 1928 Chrysler, which was a super car. It was 
about a fifteen-hundred-dollar car. And we 
have one in the Collection. In the day it was 
just one of the outstanding cars of all time—a 
’28 Chrysler 72 Sport Roadster. I said, “I want 
a Chrysler— ’28 Chrysler 722’ 

And here, plenty of money, and he said, 
“Well, who do you know that has a—who of 
your friends has a Chrysler?” 

And I said, “Well, nobody.” But I said, 
“Paul Grade has an Auburn Speedster,” which 
was a little better than a Chrysler. 

And he said, “Paul Grade isn’t really—he 
isn’t a close friend.” He said, “What does Todd 
Brown have?” And let’s see Todd had a Model 
A Ford. “What does Harry Clamp—” that was 
another good friend—’’What does Harry 
Clamp have?” 

“Harry Clamp has a Chevy.” 

“What does Felix McGinnis have?” 

(He’s a friend from Venice that I’d forgotten.) 

“He has a Star.” 

“And then what does Brad have?” 

“Brad has a Ford.” 

So he said, “Well, they all—” he said, 
“That’s classy.” He said, “You could have 
any of those.” But he said, “Those are your 
friends. You should have what they have.” So 
that’s when I got the Model A Ford. And at 
the time it was very disappointing. And then 
later I could see—it I’d’ve got the Chrysler 
72, I would’ve lost Brad and Todd—I mean 
I wouldn’t’ve been as close. And we were 

extremely close. But we all got kicked out of 
school the same time. [Chuckles] 

We had an apartment near the high school, 
which for no reason—I don’t know why we 
got the apartment—just to be smart. We all 
had a little money, and I guess other kids had 
apartments. And of course, it was a no-no. It 
was just about a block from Hollywood High 
School we got this apartment. I think there 
were six of us went in and paid, maybe it was 
eighty dollars a month or seventy or sixty—I 
don’t know—but it didn’t cost too much. We 
could afford it for five or ten dollars apiece. 
And we’d go up there after school and just 
hang out, you know. We didn’t have any girls 
there or anything. Just the guys and smokin’ 
cigarettes and maybe drinkin’ a little bit. 
And we did smoke and drink a lot there. 
I remember at one time, word got to the 
principal immediately, of course. So he sent 
a detective, who looked like a detective, you 
know— you knew instantly. Anyway, we were 
there. And this one day, the only day of the 
three months we had the place, we were all 
behind in our classes, and there was an exam 
the next day or so. And we said, “Damn it!” 
and we were real serious about passin’ the 
exam. And we were gonna study here and 
there; and no, no—it was too noisy. And we 
weren’t all there, but there, were four or five 
of us. “Let’s go up to the apartment and really 
hit this.” It was all the same subject, and we 
were really workin on this real hard. 

So this detective come up and knocked 
on the door and pretended to be lookin’ for a 
number or somethin’, or he wanted to borrow 
a cup of sugar or some darn thing. And he was 
a real nice, friendly guy; and he said, “Can I 
come in?” 

And “Yeah, come on in.” And we moved 
our books over. “What do you want?” 

And he didn’t see what he expected to see, 
so he kinda made a bum excuse and left. And 

Early Life, Education, First Gambling Experiences 


we go, “What was that all about?” And wed 
kinda forgot it. 

So then we got word indirectly later 
that—this teachers name was Foley, the vice 
principal; and he really hated all kids. He was 
one of those guys that—the principal was real 
neat, but Foley was just a—he loved it when 
he could catch you doin’ somethin’, I honestly 

So this detective came back to Foley, and 
Foley said, “Did ya find the apartment?” 

And “Oh, yes. 

And “Did you get in?” 


“And what were they doin’?” 

“Studyin.” [Laughs] 

So then I think we got that from the 
detective ’cause Foley was-4t wasn’t what he 
wanted to hear! But anyway later we did get 
caught. And everybody got kicked out of 

But this was prohibition time. 

Oh, yeah, but liquor was just, you know, 
no problem at all. Pay your money and get 
your liquor. 

Oh, there was another one, too. There was 
an Eddie Phillips and an Eddie Scanlon, who 
are both dead. They were neat guys. Eddie 
Scanlon was a real go-go-go-go-go-go. And 
he was very small in stature. Even when he 
was fifty years old, he was five-feet-two, which 
he didn’t like at all. But he always dressed real 
neat, and he always had a little money, and he 
was really the swinger, you know. 

So we were goin’ somewhere one night, I 
remember. One afternoon we had our girls, 
and I don’t know whose car or anything. 
But there were two or three guys and two or 
three girls, and we were goin’ to a football 
game or somethin’, and it was all legit. And 
we were goin’, and we’d run out of cigarettes. 

And we all smoked. So we stopped—I guess 
I noticed it first, and I was driving. So there’s 
a drugstore. I pulled up, and I started to get 
out. And I was much younger; I was two years 
younger than Eddie. I think Eddie was the 
oldest. But he was so little, and he was really 
a man of the world, or thought he was. So I 
started to get out, and he said, “No, no, Bill! 
I’ll get ’em.” So he ran into the drugstore; and 
he’s five minutes, ten minutes—you know—I 
think, “What happened?” We’re all lookin’ at 
each other. 

So pretty soon Eddie come out like this 
[head hanging], and he said, “You can go get 
’em, Bill. They won’t sell ’em to me.” [Laughs] 
So here I go in—two years younger but a foot 
taller—and just, you know—”How many do 
you want? Here you are” [laughs]. Yeah, little 
Eddie Scanlon. And Eddie Phillips—that was 
a real neat guy. 

How did you all get kicked out of school? 

Oh, I think we were warned on the 
apartment, and I think maybe we switched 
apartments. Then we did have one real bash 
there. And I think I missed that. It wasn’t 
by being a good guy—just doin’ somethin’ 
else that day. Everybody got real drunk and 
passed out and all. And the police came, 
and it was all—. So they got kicked out, and 
I was—another kid and I— maybe Brad or 
somebody—were kicked out at the same 
time. They kicked us all out. There were 
maybe eight of us. But our defense wasn’t 
as serious as the others, and we knew it. But 
everybody had to bring their parents. And 
old Foley—you know—he just really hated us 
all. So I remember my father had to go down 
with me, which wasn’t pleasant at all—when 
I had to take my father to school. And what 
was the principal’s name? He was a real neat 

g u y- 


William F. Harrah 

Anyway, when we got into it and all 
eight kids were there and the parents and 
everything and—I wish I could think of the 
principal—it doesn’t matter. But Foley had 
reported all this to the principal. Then one 
by one they—the parents went in and talked 
to the principal, then came out; and then 
the next parent went in. The kids—we all sat 
outside. And I may not be getting this exactly 
right, but it is generally correct. 

So anyway at my turn it was just my father 
and I and the principal. I remember that. So 
they went in, and they closed the door. And 
it wasn’t really too serious, but it was kinda 
serious. I didn’t know then whether I was 
gonna get kicked out or not. 

And so they didn’t close the door quite, 
and I was over here. So it was fifteen minutes, 
twenty minutes, forty minutes. I thought, “Oh, 
brother”—you know, the longer it goes on, 
the worse it is. Finally I couldn’t resist; so I 
went over, and I kind of tiptoed. And I think 
the door’d swung a little, so I could really—I 
could hear, and if I wanted to, I could see in 
the room. 

So I kinda peeked around the corner, and 
my father was I saying, “And as I’ve explained 
to you, Principal So-and-so — whatever his 
name was—’’that’s why I feel a trust deed is 
far superior to a mortgage.” [Laughs] 

And the principal said, “Well, Mr. Harrah, 
I’ve never had anyone explain it to me so 
lucidly. Thank you very much.” 

And then later I asked what happened. 
He said, “Well we talked about you for two 
minutes, and we talked about real estate for 
forty minutes.” But I didn’t get kicked out. I 
got campused or something—I forget—didn’t 
amount to much. 

But I think Brad got kicked out—he did. 
Harry Clamp got kicked out. I think maybe 
Eddie Phillips and I were the only two— 
everybody got kicked out. And they had to 

go to another high school. They couldn’t go, 

I left out some things like on the South 
Beach, which I talked about, where I was 
raised and learned to swim. And I said that 
my sister and I and the neighbor daughter 
was— were the only kids there, which was 
true; but then it started building up. And I 
had a very close friend down there named 
Felix McGinnis, which I think I mentioned 

But he and I had—my first car was ’26 
Chevrolet roadster. And Felix got a car at 
the same time. He was a year older than I 
was, but we were real close friends. He got 
a 1925 Star roadster, and we dressed ’em up 
quite a bit alike. And we used to ride around 
and take both cars. We’d go somewhere, just 
the two of us, but we’d take both cars. And I 
remember mine was prettier and [chuckling] 
had better acceleration, but he had about 
one mile an hour more top speed than I did. 
And we’d get to racing, which we did quite a 
bit—flat out. And he would always beat me, 
which was—why I didn’t hop it up, I don’t 

Felix was a real interesting kid. He had 
an older brother named Jim McGinnis. In 
fact, I was at Felix’s wedding; he married—a 
very social, big wedding in L.A.—the biggest 
wedding I’ve ever been to in my life. And Jim, 
the older brother, was kind of quiet. 

But prior to this, before the wedding, in 
the hills—in the sand dunes down there— 
and there were ducks down there. And Jim 
was hunting one time—duck hunting—by 
himself. And I think he shot a duck, and it 
fell, and he ran through the sand dunes to 
get it, like you do, I guess. And he tripped 
and fell, and his gun went off, and it hit him 
in the jaw. And it blew the—it was a wonder 
it didn’t kill him. But it blew his jaw of f, but 
it left the hinges, fortunately. 

Early Life, Education, First Gambling Experiences 


So he was—the doctors and all—and he 
didn’t die. But he needed this plastic surgery— 
this is in the ’20s— which was pretty new. So 
in St. Louis they had apparently a hospital or a 
doctor that was very good. So Mrs. McGinnis 
and Jim were back in St. Louis except for short 
trips for several years. And they took his ribs 
and all and built him a jaw. And, course, there 
were scars. But he grew a beard, and so he 
didn’t look bad—he was a red-headed fella— 
except for the beard; it was very prominent. I 
never cared for beards too much. But he’s alive 
today—he looks real—looks fine. He has it 
neatly trimmed, and beards are in style, you 

And he was an interesting guy. Felix 
kind of dropped out. I know Felix; I see him 
maybe once every five years or something, if 
I see him. And Jim I see at least once or twice 
a year. We just became close friends. But I 
admired Jim since Felix was kind of a goof- 
offer. But Jim, he got behind; because of all 
his operations, he couldn’t go to school. And 
I’m sure he studied on the side. 

But anyway, he got out after these four 
operations, and he was maybe eighteen, to 
twenty years old. And then when he could get 
around—and he had no high school diploma 
or anything. And as I said, he studied on the 
side. Anyway, he went back to high school, 
and he did four years of high school in a year 
by taking the tests you know. Then he went 
to—I think he took an entrance exam and 
went to Stanford. And he was just as good as 
you can do at Stanford. And he was—what 
was he takin’? Yeah, medicine. He was gonna 
be a doctor because he got so intrigued with 
it and all his operations, so he did. And he, 
as quick as you can squeeze it in, became a 
full-fledged doctor of medicine. 

And he started in that; and he said, “Oh, 
this isn’t for me.” So then he went in psychiatry, 
and I don’t know how much study that takes. 

But anyway, he’s one of the leading 
psychiatrists in southern California now. He 
has movie stars and all—I guess it’s, you know, 
fashionable to go to one whether you need it 
or not. He’s just doin’ super good. 

And he’s a funny man. He’s one of my 
best friends— cause this phone [points) 
could ring any time of the year— he has all 
my numbers, which is fine with me—and 
it’ll be Jim McGinnis. And he seldom calls 
(he drinks once in while) unless he’s been 
drinkin’. [Laughs] And he’s one of those 
people that—you know, he slurs his words 
but very slightly. And his mind is perfect. And 
he is very witty. And he will call and talk for 
forty-five minutes. And one of those people— 
usually you get a person like that, and I want 
to get off the phone in two minutes. But Jim, I 
enjoy the whole forty-five minutes, and I will 
actually just write a note to Cindy [secretary], 
you know—”I’m tied up for an hour,” while 
I’m talking to Jim. 

He comes up once in a while—once a year. 
We just have a wonderful time. And I admire 
him so much. 

And I’ll put one more on the McGinnises— 
well, two more. Their father was the manager 
of I think it was Central Hardware in L.A., 
and he was one of the nicest men I ever met. 
And as I said that [the] wife and Jim were 
back East, so it was Felix and Mr. McGinnis. 
I always called him for years. That was the 
family, and they had a—I think, a housekeeper 
or something. But he was manager of this 
hardware company, and it was the biggest 
one. It was impressive just to go—wholesale 
hardware; they sold to hardware stores. And 
because of my friendship with Felix, why I 
got permission—and right away—to go to 
the hardware store and buy anything I wanted 
and at the wholesale price—at their price. 
And I could—no limit—and then I could go 
and say, “I want twelve screws and four bolts” 


William F. Harrah 

or somethin’ like you do at your retail and 
get it. I remember it was so wonderful with 
hoppin up the cars; and I always wanted some 
odd pieces or tools, and I could get ’em. Mr. 
McGinnis was so great. 

What was the other one on them? Oh 
yeah. Felix was married to Maizell Hart 
[McGinnis]. Her father owned a bunch of 
hotels. She was very wealthy. And it was [a] 
fashionable wedding. There were ten ushers, 
and on and on and on and on, and hundreds 
of people, and the Wilshire—Figueroa 
Street in downtown L.A. It was an exciting 

And then afterwards they had a reception 
at the Ambassador Hotel, which was the 
hotel. So the wedding was at two o’clock or 
something, and the reception went on—it 
was four or five o’clock, And then there 
was dancing, you know; it was absolutely 
just—and the flowers and the orchestra 
and on and on and on. So we were drinkin’ 
and—everybody—and the bride and groom 
disappeared, of course. And so it wound up 
Jim McGinnis and I. Everyone had gone—all 
the guests—just Jim and I. And there was a 
lot of champagne left, so he and I were just 
sittin’ around drinkin’ the champagne and 
talkin’ and laughin’, havin’ a time. And of 
course, the waiters were all gone, but the— 
maybe the captain and one other in charge 
were waiting for us. And it could’ve been 
midnight or something— I don’t know—but it 
was very late; and the tables were all covered, 
and they’re waiting for us! And so they started 
wrappin up the champagne, you know, and 
kinda— “Okaygentlemen, goodbye [gesture, 
shoving out]. 

And so Jim said—and he was pretty 
drunk—he said, “What’s the matter?” 

I said, “Well, it’s no more champagne.” 

“Well, why not?” you know, “I’m the 
groom’s brother. Why can’t I?” 

“I’m sorry; the party’s over. Mr. Hart 
just said to let it run till nine o’clock, and it’s 
midnight.” And “No way,” and so on and so. 
The words got tougher and tougher. 

So Jim rose up like this [very straight], you 
know, and stood up, said, “Okay! I can’t—” he 
said, “Come on, this is a public institution; can 
I buy a bottle of champagne?” 

So you could see the guy’s mind working. 
And he thought, “Oh God, maybe if I let him 
buy the champagne, I’ll get rid of him.” 

So they went, and they come in, and they 
have the champagne and the ice bucket. And 
they took the lid of f with a white towel and 
all, you know, and poured it, and they gave 
Jim a bill for twenty dollars or something. It 
was wonderful champagne. 

So Jim does this [searches pockets], you 
know. [Laughs] So he turned to me, and he 
says [whispers], “Can I have twenty dollars?” 

And I got a big kick out it, and I guess I 
was as drunk as he was. And I slipped him the 
twenty, which everybody knew what was goin 
on; and I think I said [whispers], “Aren’t you 
gonna tip them?” [Laughs] So I- think he gave 
'em twenty-five dollars. He still remembers 
that, and I still needle him about it once in a 
while. But he’s a neat guy. 

Then all through high school I didn’t 
study. In my group it wasn’t fashionable. In 
math I still did good ’cause I liked it. But 
everything else you didn’t study, which my 
kids don’t do; and I understand why they 
don’t sometimes. We just didn’t study. It was 
a no-no. You didn’t study. You were a sissy or 

And I had the teachers, and—’’William, 
you’re a smart boy. Why don’t you do your 

And “Oh yes, Miss So-and-so, I will—yah 
dee da dee da.” 

So, “William, you want to go to college, 
don’t you?” 

Early Life, Education, First Gambling Experiences 


“Well, yeah, sure.” 

“Well, you don’t get your grades, you can’t 
go to college. And you’re gettin C’s and D’s, 
and you should be getting As and B’s. Dee da 
dee da,” 

And so it was ’26—I was the class of ’29. 
So in the tall of September ’28—yeah, that’d 
be the class of ’29, yeah— for some reason 
I woke up while one of the fellows that was 
kind of on the edge of us, not really—there 
were several— and one was goin’ to Stanford, 
I remember. And I said, “Well, how are you 
going to get into Stanford?” 

He said, “Well, I got the grades. No 

And Stanford I always—to this day I 
would’ve loved to have gone to Stanford. I 
don’t know why, but 

And then another boy that I kinda 
respected was going somewhere to an east 
coast school or somethin’. “So how are you 
going to—.” He had the grades. 

And I thought, “My God, I guess you do 
have to have those grades.” 

So I took a look at it, and I was just 
terrible. So then I turned around completely, 
and I worked real hard, and I added—carried 
extra—like you’re supposed to carry four or 
five, and I carried six or seven. And I made 
up all but just oh, maybe not a year and not 
a half a year—between that—I didn’t have to 
get in a major college. 

So there were several of us in the same 
boat—Brad and Todd and my girlfriend 
Pacquita Yriondo. She was oh, a Basque— 
yeah—Spanish Basque, whatever they call 
it—real neat girl. We’re still [chuckles] friends. 
She wound up at—we all went to California 
Christian College, which was a little school. 
That’s when UCLA was on Vermont, and Cal 
Christian was right across the street, and they 
only had maybe hundred and fifty students. 
And it was a Christian—I mean there is a 

Christian religion—it’s just called Christian. 
And Cal Christian was their college, which is 
still going on, only it has a different name now, 
and it’s moved and everything, of course. 

But Cal Christian you could get in—we 
could get in with our kind of poor grades, 
but still it was accredited. And any grades 
you made at Cal Christian were accepted at 
UCLA. So then I just aimed my subjects at 
getting in UCLA, which I didn’t want to tell 
’em I was doing. So I took some other stuff, 
but some subjects I didn’t even hardly bother 
with them— maybe quit along the way. But 
the credits I needed, I got it— took calculus, 
too—. And then the following year then, I got 
to UCLA. But it was kind of hard work, and 
it made me appreciate 

Kind of funny at UCLA. At Cal Christian, 
among other things I took was Spanish. I’d 
taken Spanish at Hollywood. I kinda liked 
it, and it was rather easy. I’d even taken it 
in Venice Junior High School. It was easy 
because so many of the signs and things in 
southern California—La Jolla and all— are 

So I got to Cal Christian. I did need some 
language more for UCLA or for college, so I 
took Spanish. And it was maybe third year 
or somethin’—second year. And I liked my 
Spanish teacher. He was an older man. He 
was—but then to me he was very old, but 
today I’d guess he was sixty—kind of heavy, 
and— but he had Spanish background; I think 
he was part Mexican— spoke beautifully. And 
he was a very conscientious teacher, which 
you’ve seen, you know. He really wanted us 
to go. So when I would do my classes good, 
he would just be so proud of me. And I would 
feel it, you know. And it got where I didn’t 
want to disappoint him, and my friends—I 
was still playin’ around, you know. 

“What are you doin’?” 

“I’m doin’ my Spanish.” 


William F. Harrah 

“Well, what are you doin’ that for?” 

“Well, I don’t want to disappoint Professor 
Izguierda,” or whatever his name was. 

So I was just super good in Spanish. And 
I loved it, and he liked me, and the more he 
liked me the harder I worked, and I just—. 

So it came near the end of the year, they 
had a Spanish play, and the Spanish class put 
on the Spanish play. So I had the lead, and 
it worried me ’cause I’ve always had trouble 
talking in public, so I died a thousand deaths. 
“Oh, gee whiz! I don’t want all those people 
lookin’ at me.” But because I wanted to please 
him and that I did know my subject, why 
I said I’d do it. So I had the lead, and there 
was, I think, three acts, and I was in every 
scene, every act, [laughing] and did most of 
the talking! And I learned—I knew my part, 
and I did it very well, too. I was real proud 
of myself. And my girlfriend Pacquita was 
my daughter in the play, which was fun. And 
then when we had it, why my folks all came 
to watch Bill. That was a great experience. 

But then I think after Cal Christian, to get 
in, in the fall of’30, to get in UCLA I needed 
one more what do they call ’em—credit? So 
I went to UCLA in the summer school; I 
could get in the summer school. And I took 
earthquake, which was really interesting, and 
then some form of math that I just loved. And 
the earthquake was interesting, too. And still 
today I can talk about California earthquakes 
a little from just what I learned in that six- 
week summer school. I liked both my classes, 
so I got As in that. So then I had a running 
start at UCLA. 

But by then I did—see, what was that— 
still playin’ around a little bit. And once I got 
in, then I kinda let down. I was in college, and 
I still didn’t know what direction I wanted to 
go. I started out mechanical engineer, which 
I liked. And the physics at UCLA I can still 
remember those. The physics out there were 

unbelievable—almost like you’d see on outer 
space today—just things I didn’t know existed. 

But my old bugaboo, chemistry—and I 
was way behind in chemistry. As you probably 
know, when you get behind in a subject and 
you don’t have the groundwork, then it’s 
pretty hopeless. And it was a must all the way, 
which—I said, “Well, you’re a mechanical 
engineer. Well, and metals have chemical 
properties; you would know which is right. 
You should know.” And because of that weak 
point, I was kind of losin’ heart cause I knew 
that. And I cheated on my chemistry, which 
got me behind; and I got caught, which I knew 
I was gonna. I really had about given up on it 
anyway—you know. 

So about the same time I was really in 
a quandary. I thought “Well, I still love my 
math,” and I was still going at that. But I had 
no direction. And then I got into the Circle 
Game, which was kind of fun. When it did 
get semi successful in September, then, and 
I had to stay out of school, I was pleased that 
it didn’t bother me a bit to stay out and make 
a buck because I just wasn’t doin’ too good in 
my engineering career. 

Well, tell about your beginnings, then, with 
the Circle Game. How did it get started ? You 
had started to tell a little earlier about your 
father having the setup that you didn’t quite 
agree with. 

Yeah. Well, the Depression hit and the 
panic in what was that—October, I guess, in 
’29, and because of the trust deeds, business 
and the property values just fell terribly. So the 
fifty-thousand-dollar piece of property with 
the twenty-five-thousand-dollar mortgage 
with a five-thousand-dollar trust deed became 
a fifteen-thousand-dollar piece of property 
that my father owned with a twenty-five- 
thousand-dollar mortgage. So even if he— 

Early Life, Education, First Gambling Experiences 


and he tried to save; I remember how hard 
he worked. And he would maybe just give 
something away to get a little money to make 
the payments on this. But he and Johnny 
Moore had this property all over L.A.—I guess 
forty or fifty or eighty or something like that. 
I remember Id been all over L.A. where he 
owned something. 

So anyway, overnight he owed all this 
money and it was just a tragedy. And he tried so 
hard to do it. So, eventually he lost everything— 
all of the property except our home. And all he 
had left was this lease (he didn’t own it) on a 
building in Venice on the Venice pier right at 
the corner of the Ocean Front and Venice pier, 
which was a wonderful location. And he had to 
lease it. It was quite a large building with various 
concessions that faced on the oceanfront—that 
was a walk and a pier. It was the one around the 
corner. And like there was a hot dog stand and 
a shooting gallery and a little restaurant and a 
pool hall, and a milk bottle game where they 
threw the balls and hit the milk bottles, and 
various things like that. 

And about the same time there were 
some vacancies. It was Depression. This was 
in ’32. So I knew nothing; I was down there 
occasionally but not much. I didn’t care for it 
any more cause Venice had kind of gone to 
pot. The Bingo games I’d heard of, and I wasn’t 
too interested in that. But then there was this 
Circle Game, and it was in our building—or 
the building he had to lease. I’d forgotten that. 
And that was called—the Reno game was 
the name of the game; that’s a coincidence. 
And it later became Circle, and it was then 
a very small room. And the man was doing 
pretty well; not too good, but he was makin’ 
some money. My father was intrigued with 
the game. So he put one in; this wasn’t talkin’ 
to me much, just kind of second. He was 
[in] Venice and the game and all but no 

Then, how I happened to get in it, I think 
it was just I was lookin’ for a summer job 
or something, and he said, “Well, hey, you 
want to work in the Circle Game?” And I 
went down, and it was within the week or 
two of opening, or month. Then [I] looked 
at the other one, the Reno game, which 
was doing—. And then I studied, of course. 
When I found I was goin’ to work and got 
real interested in how it worked and all, 
then we did open. I hired Todd Brown and 
Brad Miller [chuckling] to work for me, and 
Harry Clamp—my buddies, none of which 
worked out very good, not because they 
were—that just wasn’t their way to go. They 
were interested in other things. 

But we opened on the Fourth of July, and 
it was not successful. The Reno game was 
successful. Then there was another one on 
the pier that had opened about the same time 
we opened, which was way out in a very poor 

The reason the Circle Game wasn’t too 
successful was we gave pots; we gave a carton 
of cigarettes or multiples of that, depending 
on how many players you had and how much 
money you took in. At that time a carton of 
cigarettes was worth a dollar and a quarter, 
so our games would be a dollar and a quarter, 
two and a half. Three seventy-five’s a bum 
number, but five dollars would never be a big 
game. We sold playing cards, which I won’t 
go into the details of the Circle Game. It was 
similar to Bingo, and you could play—it cost 
you twenty-five cents. You got five cards. 
Or you could play two sets, which was fifty 
cents. And you could win—it wasn’t too smart 
playin’ fifty cents to win a dollar and a quarter, 
but when we got up to two and a half or five, 
then a lot of people played two sets. And it was 
a fun game. You rolled a marble down, you 
hit your own number, and you drew playing 
cards. And you could, if you got lucky, you 


William F. Harrah 

could get a pair, which helped you, like in 

But it was a group game, and any group 
game, which a Bingo game is, if you have 
house players or shills, which are players that 
work for the house, only it’s a big secret (only 
it really isn’t a big secret), why, then they play 
when the play gets slow and the shills win the 
game, why, the house is protected, which is 
true, except the shills who play ruin the game. 
The people see shills in the game. And you 
fool the public for about two days or one day, 
why then they don’t play with you any more. 
They don’t like you; they say your game’s 

We had shills with my father’s insistence. 
He thought that’s the way you had to run. I 
had my school chums that would come down; 
I’d meet ’em around the corner, and I’d give 
’em money to come in and play. Then we hired 
some local people; it just didn’t work at all. 
We weren’t foolin’ anybody; we had to pay 
the shills. The Reno game had a few shills and 
they were doin’ fair because they were the first 
one. But Carpenter—that’s the one way out on 
the pier—he had a very nice, pretty game— 
terrible location—and he had no shills. And 
he was just doin’ great. He had all the Circle- 
type game players in Venice playing with him 
because it was a square game, which I could 
see and anyone could see. And I showed it to 
my father, and he couldn’t see it or just didn’t 
want to see it. And I’d say—and we really had 
some talks. I said, “If we get rid of the shills, 
we’re gonna do fine.” 

He said, “You get rid of the shills, you’re 
gonna lose your shirt! Suppose you only have 
two players at twenty-five cents apiece; and 
you’ve given away a dollar and a quarter, you 
lose seventy-five cents a game,” which is true. 

But the point he missed is that other 
players walk by, and they see two players in 
there; and they know they’re real players. They 

say, “Wow! Let’s get in this game,” which is 
true with any Bingo game. Any Bingo player 
knows when there’s a small crowd, the pots 
are just the same, you have a better chance, 
so they rush in and play. So it just takes care 
of itself. 

He couldn’t see that, and so it was really 
touch and go just to make a hundred dollars 
a week out of the darn thing by paying all the 
shills and everything. It was very—we had 
a lot of worries about it. And then finally, 
why the time came when he was fed up. And 
I was—we were gettin’ in so—I don’t know 
the exact words, but I did buy it from him 
for five hundred dollars and fired all the 
shills immediately—or just didn’t fire ’em, 
just didn’t rehire them—and ran the same 
game, the same location, and everything. 
And word got around instantly we had no 

And I remember the first day it was kind 
of scary. We had six players and seven players 
and eight players. But it didn’t last too long, 
and we had ten players and fifteen players, and 
every player was a legitimate player. And so 
you were givin’ away a dollar and a quarter, 
and you’re takin in two and quarter, why, you 
were makin’ a dollar a game! And that was 
fun! I mean, when you had the shills, you 
had to keep track of who won what and all, 
and then straighten up later, and just all the 
complications. And this was just so simple: 
you ran the game and paid out so much, and 
you took in so much, and the difference was 
what you made. As we did have a pretty good 
location. Then it started to go, and it started 
makin’ money. 

And then I improved it. I bought some 
good stools [laughs]. It was about the first 
thing I did! And here and there, and I put in 
some drapes. There were no drapes. It was just 
an empty storeroom, like you’d take an old, 
abandoned cabinet shop and put a game in 

Early Life, Education, First Gambling Experiences 


it. And I put some drapes in and some pretty 
stools, and it didn’t look too bad. 

The first year it made—let’s see, that was 
September of’32. The winter was a little scary 
because of the weather, but we went through 
the winter. I have a book somewhere that 
shows what we did, but I think we made 
around a hundred—hundred to two hundred 
dollars a week, and which was pretty good. 

And then in the spring—I think January, 
February, or something—none of the games 
were legal. It was a “game of skill,” and you 
had a license from the city of Los Angeles. 
It was a “game of skill” like a bottle game or 
anything—the same kind at a license—only 
it was called a Circle Game, or it was called— 
they didn’t call it Bingo; they called it Tango. 

But then you’d get an ex-district attorney 
runnin’ f or reelection or something, he 
would—or the chief of police or someone 
would—close ’em up, and which they could 
do. And because they weren’t really legal, they 
would arrest you on a gambling charge. 

Well, they closed the Bingo games. There 
were a whole bunch by then in Venice and 
Ocean Park and Santa Monica and Redondo 
and Long Beach. At one time there were oh, 
twenty— well, at this time in ’33, I guess it 
was, or ’34—there were maybe twenty Bingo 
games operating in southern California, and 
they were all closed. And they tried to close 
us; and that’s where my father came in, being 
a lawyer. And he—I remember they walked 
in, and he said, “What are you guys—crazy!” 
to the policemen. 

They were shook up; they just thought 
we’d close up like everybody else did. And 
they said, “Well, yes. We’re closin’ all the Bingo 

So my father said, “This is no Bingo game! 
This is no way a Bingo game!” And he had all 
the—and really threw at ’em. “We don’t use 
baseballs; we use marbles. We don’t use Bingo 

cards; we use playing cards. Bla bla bla bla bla 
bla bla.” 

And you could see the police officers were 
taken aback. They just didn’t know what to do! 
So they said, “Well uh, oh, uh, well, excuse 
us,” or something. We’ll go—we want to talk 
to—we want to make a phone call.” 

So we kept going. And then in the 
meantime there were politics involved. And 
my father made some connections. I know— 
not too familiar with what they were—not a 
big payoff or anything, but just some—he had 
some political friends over the years; and plus 
he was an excellent lawyer, plus he hired the 
best. He had [Harold Lee] Jerry Giesler, which 
was the best lawyer in southern California— 
maybe a little later down the road, but he got 
the very best. And he just buffaloed ’em with 
all his—you know—’’I’ll get a writ; I’ll do 
this and that!” So they didn’t close the Circle 
Game. And by then the Reno Game had 
closed, and I believe Carpenter had—guess he 
had— he’d closed because of his poor location 
when we started doin’ good. 

So for several months we had the only 
game operating in southern California, and 
it was open from—we kept our regular hours. 
We opened at, I think, one o’clock, and we 
ran till one o’clock—twelve hours—with our 
thirty stools. And it was full from the time 
we opened till we closed. And we didn’t 
knock ’em off; we ran the proper games. The 
crowd’d get bigger, and more money came 
in. We played, but I remember we made—we 
did it three months—we made twenty-five 
thousand dollars or somethin’. It was just a 
whole new world, you know. But of course, 
by then everyone had—like the Robbins with 
their Bingo parlors—closed. They didn’t like 
that at all. So they (which you can’t blame 
’em—I’d’ve done the same thing)—so then 
they opened, although they weren’t the Circle. 
But they opened with marbles and with cards 


William F. Harrah 

and copied our game. And they opened, and 
others opened, and then gradually, why, it 
tell back. But I remember that one year, that 
year of I think it was ’34, I made between 
twenty-five and fifty thousand dollars, which 
was an awful lot of money. So then when it 
got down to competitive—. In the meantime, 
there had been two Bingo parlors put in our 
building—or my father’s building—or the 
building he had the lease on. There was a 
small Bingo parlor called Jones, a man named 
Jones. He’d had a chip game there which was 
a penny roulette game, which was semi-legal. 
But it kind of went out, and Bingo was in, so 
he put in this little Bingo game. He had it full 
of shills. It wasn’t successful. 

On the other side was the Plaza game, 
which my father had an interest in with a man 
named—can’t remember. That was a big game. 
That was almost competitive with Robbins— 
not as good, but pretty good. And they used 
shills—the same old thing—and it wasn’t too 
successful. And then they got closed, and then 
the other Bingo parlors got closed. But with 
the stake I got with the twenty-five to fifty 
thousand there, I bought out Jones and took 
out the shills, and it was an instant success just 
by taking the shills out and cutting the price 
of the cards. 

And then the Plaza—the big one—it was 
two for a dime. The biggest places were ten 
cents a card, but Plaza was two for a dime. 
And it was very nice—nice drapes, nice stools, 
and no shills there. And it was a—it wasn’t an 
overnight success, but it was successful. There 
was a bigger game; it was a little tougher to get 
goin’. But within the year we had the—or I had 
the Circle Game and the Vogue—I changed 
the Jones place to the Vogue just ’cause it was 
a name. And the Plaza was already named. I 
left that name. So then I had three of them. 
And they went quite well. Makin’ money. By 
then, the Circle wasn’t classed by itself; it was 

just another game. So then when they closed 
them again, everything went, includin’ the 
Circle. And that happened over and over, and 
it just got where it was—that’s when I started 
thinkin’ of other places. 

So it was difficult, which—it was political. 
If the district attorney said you could run, you 
ran; and if he didn’t, why you didn’t. And for 
years I’ve kind of blamed it on Santa Anita 
racetrack. And I have no proof, except Santa 
Anita always opened on Christmas Day and 
ran for two or three months. And we usually 
closed, and we got open with chips and with 
darts and with balls, and we’d change the 
game, and we’d get open again. And we’d take 
it to the police commission and get an okay 
and get our license and open up. And then 
we’d get closed, and we changed the game 
and opened again—on and on—three or four 

But around the middle of December, the 
twentieth of December, we’d get closed. And 
it was never directly Santa Anita, but, you 
know, post hoc ergo propter hoc, or whatever it 
is. By then we had a mailing list, and we’d get 
Christmas presents prepared for our players 
and all, invite them down, and then we’d be 

The real sad thing was our help, which 
my father could never understand. Help 
to him were just like apples or somethin’: 
you needed a dozen, you went and bought 
a dozen. And but then again, help isn’t that 
way. They have to be good, and they have to 
make a living, and you just can’t put ’em out 
of work. But he could never see that at all. 
Just when we opened up, he said, “Get some 
help.” And when we closed up, “Pay ’em off,” 
you know. And like they were walnut pickers 
or somethin’. And it just didn’t work, and it 
was oh, extremely difficult. That’s another 
reason. We got up to fifty, sixty players with 
the three games, and that’s when Bob Ring 

Early Life, Education, First Gambling Experiences 


was in the picture. He was very helpful. And 
we’d get all lined up and get our help all lined 
up. And then we’d get goin’-. Some people 
weren’t so good, and we’d make changes and 
get goin’. Then we’d get closed up. And that 
would always look like you’re goin’ to open 
next week. And so a guy’d say, “Gee, I can go 
to work for Douglas.” 

And I’d say, “No, wait, wait, wait, wait! 
We’re gonna open next week.” 

And well, you know, “I haven’t anything 
to eat.” 

“Okay, here’s five dollars’ 

So you try to keep sixty people, you know, 
ready; so when you open tomorrow, you 
have sixty people with nothing sure. It’s very 
difficult. And that was a big headache, really, 
it was just awful. 

And then when I came to Reno, which 
was just on a spree— no thought of goin into 
business—and I saw they were runnin’ here 
year and year out, I thought, “Gee, that looks 
good.” But how I came up here was with some 
school chums again. And—well, no, that’s 
kind of an interesting story. I was goin’ with 
a girl that worked in the game, who I later 
married—Thelma. And some old friends 
from Hollywood High School was Noah 
Dietrich’s daughters. And there was Kay and 
Elizabeth. And I was a good friend of Noah 
Dietrich’s. He was a super guy. 

But Kay Dietrich was goin’ with a boy 
named Johnny O’Hara, who—let’s see, this 
is ’36, we came; I’m gettin’ down the road a 
little, but—no, ’37. But how I came to Reno— 
we were still runnin’ the games and gettin 
closed—runnin’ the game, gettin closed. But 
in ’37 we were closed, and we were all good 
friends, and Johnny was a fraternity brother 
at UCLA, and he was Kay’s boyfriend. And 
we’d all double-date all the time. So we’re 
double-datin’, and Kay’s mother—what was 

her name? Noah and—she was a wonderful 

She and Noah had split. And she’d 
come—it was a big shock—’’The Dietrichs 
are separated! Wow!” So she came to Reno; 
came to Reno for a divorce. And Kay and 
Elizabeth came with her, and they stayed at 
the Golden Hotel. And she got her divorce, 
but then Elizabeth was talkin’ about Reno— 
how neat Reno was, and da da da da da. 

And I said, “Well, I’ve been to Reno. I was 
there with Brad and the Model T.” 

“Well, you haven’t seen it lately. They got 
all the gamblin’; they got Bingo, they got this 
and that. And oh, it’s fun.” 

So this vacation, we all had a little money, 
and we came to Reno—four of us. And I 
remember that just like it was yesterday. I 
had my Lincoln Zephyr and drove up and 
parked right out in front of the—. We got 
into Reno—and, “So this is Reno.” And, see, 
that was—I don’t think Harolds Club was 
open—there was an old—you remember—the 
Block N and that stuff. Well, right next to that 
there was a bar—a real cheesy bar. That’s in 
the book somewhere. We went in there, and 
it was terrible—I mean bum liquor, you know, 
and just bum atmosphere. And we said, “Wow, 
this is Reno?” 

So then we went around to the Golden 
Hotel, and we got rooms, and we went in the 
bar there, and it was a different world. There 
was a bartender there, I think named Howard 
Leavitt or something. But three bartenders I 
got to know over the years very well. And he 
was just so—everyone was so nice to us at the 
Golden bar. So oh, it was a different, different 

So Johnny later became a doctor; he was 
a wonderful old guy. But he couldn’t gamble 
worth a darn—never could his whole life. He 
died. And he and I had an agreement when 
we left L. A. I think we each had two hundred 


William F. Harrah 

and fifty, or maybe five hundred dollars. So we 
agreed wed just—nobody would worry—like 
you’re havin’ dinner, somebody would pay— 
no big deal. You’re havin’ drink, somebody 
would pay. And when we got back to L.A., if 
we had any money left, we’d split. And if one 
guy got broke, the other fellow’d give him 
some money and no counting—just give him 
some money. 

So we came up, and we went in the 
Golden. And then I think we went to the Bank 
Club—or maybe we went to the Bank Club 
first—and just got up to the bar, and Johnny 
was over in the Crap game, and he didn’t 
lose his full five hundred, but most of it. And 
before we went to bed, he’d lost all his money. 
He always did. He was very unlucky, and he 
did everything wrong—one of those kind of 
guys. So I gave him some money, and then it 
got to be a joke; only Johnny didn’t think it 
was too funny. 

But we were here for three of four days, 
and we ate, we went to the Town House, and 
big dinners. And everywhere we went—fancy 
dinners, stayed at the Golden, had nice rooms, 
and drank all the time, and tipped everybody. 
And I kept givin’ Johnny money—givin’ it to 
him. And when we got back to L.A., I think 
we—I had—or between us—say we started—I 
think a thousand is too much. It was more 
like six hundred, three hundred apiece. And 
I think when we got back to L.A., we had five 
or six hundred dollars between the two of us. 
And we spent a lot of money and then just had 
a wonderful time. So I remember talking—or 
all of us, you know: “That’s a place! Look at 
that; they don’t close the bars, and they don’t 
close the games, and they leave you alone, and, 
you know, the police were nice—everybody 
was so nice.” And no penny ante laws like they 
had—two o’clock if you didn’t close your bar; 
it was a big thing in California. We just loved 

And there were Bingo parlors here, of 
course; and I looked at them, and I thought, 
“Gee whiz, I wish I’d’ve gotten one of those. 
But it’s too late. You know, I should have been 
here last year.” And there was one that opened 
where the Reno Print is. And they had just 
opened, and they seemed to be doing quite 
good. And then there was the Reno Club, 
which was a Japanese place. And there was 
a Fortune Club, and there was the Heart 
Tango. And that was it. And there was one on 
commercial Row that was just limpin’ along. 
I could see that was no good. And then this 
one down here; that one closed. But anyway 
the one Center Street looked pretty good. And 
then we went back to L.A., and then within 
a month I got a letter from somebody that 
wanted to know if I was interested in that 
place that had closed up. And it was a real 
nice-lookin’-’-nice fixtures. And I said, “Wow! 
For sale?” Yeah, it was for sale. So I came up 
and bought it real cheap not knowing it was 
a terrible location. And that’s a whole long 


Gambling in Reno, 


In September [we] opened in [Venice] 
’32, July Fourth and—let’s see, how old 
was I? Twenty. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, I 
remember. September, I was twenty-one, I 
remember. That was very impressive to me 
being twenty-one, which was kinda funny. 
I was always interested in politics—well, my 
father was in politics—not that I wanted to 
be, but—you know. And so this was ’32, and I 
was twenty-one in September, which was just 
as close as you can get that I could register. 
And I voted my first time in November of’32. 
And I remember I voted for Herbert Hoover 
[laughing]. And then I voted—my father 
was a Republican; and I was, of course. So 
then it was Hoover and then—who’s the next 
Republican? Landon, Willkie, and who was 
that mayor of New York—Dewey. I voted for 
every one of’em. And then, course, I voted for 
Eisenhower; and he got elected, and I couldn’t 
believe [laughing]! I was so excited—”My 
God! I got a winner!” [Chuckles] 

In May of’37, [I] came up, looked around 
and then the one Bingo parlor—and then 
later I got word that it was closed and for sale, 

and I came up and made a deal on it. And I 
remember—yes—oh, what was his name? 
Oh, Bob Douglass. The collector of internal 
revenue, yeah, in the post office building. He 
was the landlord. And he had a lot of clout 
politically. So I needed a license—there was 
just nothing there. I just got a license. I don’t 
know, he might have got it for me, which it 
was no big deal in those days. But I remember 
I liked Bob very much. He was a car guy, 
and he was very friendly. He kinda liked me, 
maybe because I was a car guy. 

But he was goin’ to Carson one time, 
and he had a new Ford, and Fords would go 
pretty good—there he took delivery up here at 
Fovelock’s. That’s when they were up here, you 
know—well, they still are [chuckles]—’’And 
he’s goin with me. I gotta go to Carson.” 

And so I went with him, and we got this 
new Ford—two miles on it. And as we drove 
it out, Fovelock or whoever said, “Bob, da 
da da,” and then he turned to me. And he 
says, “You know Bob Douglass and how he 

And I said, “Well, I’ve heard.” 


William F. Harrah 

He said, “Well, he believes in flat out all the 
time. This is a brand-new car, and it should 
be broken in. He’s not gonna do it, so would 
you—he’s gonna say he’s gonna, but I know 
he won’t—would you kinda remind him on 
the way to Carson?” 

I said, “Okay, sure.” 

So we started out; and as soon as we got 
out of town, it was ninety miles an hour. 

And I said, “Oh, Mr. Douglass, Mr. 

He said, “Oh, the hell with Mr. Lovelock!” 

And I said, “Yeah, but a new car—it should 
be broken in a little.” I knew somethin’ about 

He said, “Nah, nah, these Fords,” he said, 
“they’re built pretty loose,” which some of’em 

And I said, “Well, yeah, but it might freeze 
up on you,” which means it gets hot and blows 

And he said, “Oh, what the hell if it does; 
I’ll get another one.” 

But it didn’t. It just ran beautifully to 
Carson and back. And he was going to see the 
governor, which I’d never met the governor. 
And I forget who the governor was then. But 
anyway he went in and walked right in on the 
governor, and said, “This is Bill Harrah. He’s 
a .tenant of mine in Reno.” 

“Oh, how do you do? How do you do?” 

And Bob says to the governor and me, 
he said, “I have to run down the hall for 
somethin’. You guys get along. 

So here am I twenty years old or somethin’, 
and my governor is sittin’ there; and I thought, 
“What the hell do you say to the governor?” 
[Laughing] But he was really nice. I wish I 
could remember his name. 

I think it was [Kirman]. But he went out 
of his way; he could see that I was uneasy, and 
he was just so nice. So fifteen minutes—or it 
was twenty minutes you know. And I got to 

be kind of comfortable. Mr. Douglass came 
back; I wasn’t dyin’ like I thought I would. 

But somethin’ Mr. Douglass did that was 
awfully nice. When I got the place, I bought 
the previous owner out. And I got the lease on 
the place, which was a short lease, but it was 
maybe two or three years to go. And I think 
it was two hundred or two hundred and fifty 
dollars a month. 

Then we closed it up, and I continued to 
pay the rent and then bought another place, 
which I’ll go into; but this is a Bob Douglass 

So I got the other place and moved 
equipment and all, so all I had was a vacant 
building there that I was payin’ two hundred 
dollars or two-fifty. So I went to him, and 
he’s the kind you could call up. And I went 
to see him, and I said, “Mr. Douglass, as you 
know, I moved ’cause the location—” I said, 
“Good location but not for Dingo,” da da da 

He said, “How ya doin’?” 

I said, “Pretty good.” 

He said, “That’s fine.” 

And I said, “I’ve been lookin’—and I 
advertised it for rent.” I said, “I’ve been lookin’ 
for a tenant to sublet it.” I said, “I haven’t been 
able to find one. But,” I said, “I’m doin’ the 
best—I’m not goofin’ off. I’m doin’ the best I 

And he says, “Oh hell, Bill.” He said, “You 
didn’t do any good there.” He said, “You’ve 
been real good.” He said, “You don’t have to 
pay us.” He said, “Let’s just tear up the lease,” 
which he did, which was very nice. 

Yeah, he was a classy guy. He knew when 
we started the Horseless Carriage Club here. 
He was so interested in old cars that we 
followed up—we were friends for years—not 
real close, but we liked each other. He had 
pictures, and there are pictures in the Sunday 
supplement sometimes of Bob Douglass and 

Gambling in Reno, 1937-1946 


his Stutz Bearcat. And they had races around 
here in the old days, and Bob won a lot of’em. 

I remember one time he told—I think we 
went to Sacramento once for some reason 
cause he was real big politically. 

Anyway I think we went to Sacramento 
once—yeah, we did— to see the governor, I 
guess. But anyway, when we were goin’ over 
the mountain and we passed the sheds that the 
trains run in, you know, and I’d heard about 
somethin’ that he’d had an accident up there 
one time. So I had read that he had wrecked 
his car up there in the tunnel—the train. And 
so I knew him well enough then when I said, 
“What happened?” 

He said, well, they had a road race from 
Sacramento to Reno, or Reno to Sacramento. 
And so he was in that. They got up on top of 
the mountain, and he was doin’ good, and 
this unexpected snow came, so the road was 
filled—of course, there were no snow plows 
or anything—but it was impassable. And he 
wanted to win that race; that was important. 
So he got on the railroad tracks and went 
along and through the tunnel or the—what 
do they call it—the snow shed. 

Yeah. And [chuckles] a train came 
along and goin the other way—a freight or 
something. And so Bob jumped out of the 
Bearcat and hid behind something. And 
course the train hit the car and ruined it. 
And it stopped the train and everything—big 
excitement and all. Bob wasn’t hurt at all. 

And so everybody’s all excited and big 
news. And the railroad, of course, was pretty 
put out about it. And they started fussin with 
Bob, So he sued ’em for wreckin’ his Stutz 
Bearcat [laughing], which he told me—he 
said, “Well, I sued the bastards for wreckin’ 
my car!” He was a fun man, 

But anyway, then we moved to—let’s 
see, the Bingo parlor on—there was one on 
Commercial Row next to the Wine House, but 

it was real shaky. And when we opened over 
there, it was—we took just enough business 
that it put them out of business. 

They were runnin on a real shoestring. So 
we knew them somehow, and we bought their 
lease. And why, I don’t know. It just looked 
better than the other one, I think, and maybe 
to get the equipment. Maybe for six hundred 
dollars, we got the place or something, and 
just two of us. You know, money wasn’t very 
big then. 

Anyway, we got it, and we closed over a 
year, and it was fall. I knew when there was 
snow on the ground, it was very bad. So then 
that winter, I spent the winter tryin to raise 
some money, which I did a little bit, and 
moving the equipment from Center Street to 
Commercial Row. So then in May or June we 
reopened on Commercial Row. And that was 
called—I think we called it the Plaza Tango. 
And the reason we called it Plaza was we had 
a Plaza game in Venice, and we had the deck 
of Bingo cards that said “Plaza” on them; and 
I discovered that Commercial Row on the 
other side is called “The Plaza’—Plaza Street, 
I guess. So it kind of gave me an excuser and 
it saved some money. So we opened there, and 
by then, we’d learned quite a bit. 

When we opened, there was the Fortune 
Club which was two cards for a dime. It was on 
the corner over there. That was Joe Zemansky. 
And then there was the Reno Club, which was 
where Harolds Club is now. In tact it was 232 
North Virginia; I can remember that. That 
was the Japanese. Freddie Aoyama was the 
manager. He’s still in Reno. And I forget the 
owners. They owned Bingo parlors all over 
the West. They had ’em in Venice and Santa 
Monica and all, and I knew them from down 
there. They were pretty good operators. There 
was the Reno Club and the Fortune Club. 
They were two for a dime. And then the Heart 


William F. Harrah 

Tango, which was also where Harolds Club is 
now—it was right second from the corner— 
that was two for a nickel. 

So when I opened on Commercial Row, 
we went two for a nickel, six for a dime, which 
was an old gimmick we learned at the beach, 
which worked real good. And of course, the 
hot cards don’t cost you any more, and you 
have plenty of cards. And it’s a big attraction. 
Nobody ever plays two for a nickel; they play 
six cards for a dime. And Howe, who had the 
Heart Tango, he stayed for two for a nickel, 
which was kind of a mistake. So we competed 
with him. And we kinda had a “Bingo war,” 
gave pretty good pots. It wasn’t a real crazy 
war, but it was just—we went strong, and we 
gave drawings, and we did all sorts of things. 
And we increased our business pretty good. 

I remember I read Mr. Ring’s thing [oral 
history], and we opened in June or July; 
and Mr. Ring didn’t open it, but I had a very 
unsatisfactory manager here. Mr. Ring was 
still in Venice; we had some things down 
there, and they closed up. So Bob came up 
here, and it was—he came up in the summer 
of ’38— has been here ever since. 

That was October or something. We’re 
still bangin’ away, and there was no heat in 
the building, which our competitor knew. So 
then we had to watch our money. So we got 
the heating people, and we—course in those 
days we did it all ourselves. You called, and I 
could even see what the guy looked like. But 
he did a lot of work for us later that was in 
heating and that kind of work. 

So he came by—’’Well, what can we get?” 

“Well, you can get just a heater in the 
corner for,” you know, “thirty dollars, and you 
get this and that. But you can get a furnace— 
basement, the whole bit, for six hundred,” or 
nine hundred,” or something. 

“Ooh, that’s a lot of money!” 

“Well, you don’t have to pay it all at once.” 

But it was a first-class job. So we bought 
it, and I’m sure Ring was in on the decision, 
or at least the thinking behind it. And it 
was that we did need heat, and we wanted 
it— you know—we wanted the people to be 
comfortable. They’re not gonna play if they’re 
not comfortable. And also, while there wasn’t 
the psychology of getting Howe out because 
we weren’t that far along, it did work that 
way because we got a feedback. You know, 
the kids would all see the other dealers and 
drink together and all. And we got word back 
right away that Howe was surprised when 
we bought this heater that boy, we were in 
business. So he had to take us seriously, which 
he did. 

Then we competed with Howe very 
strongly all winter. And I didn’t tell you 
about his selling out? Well, see, I had so many 
interviews with these newspapers, forget who 
I’ve talked to. 

We opened on Halloween in ’37. And I’d 
looked at the other parlors here, and they 
ran—well, at the beach we ran five-dollar 
games, ten-dollar games, and fifteen-dollar 
games at two for a dime. And you’d run— 
your regular schedule was two fives and a 
ten, two fives and a fifteen. You just ran that 

And up here the same places, they were 
running six-dollar games at two for a dime. 
But they ran maybe six or eight six-dollar 
games; and then they’d run a ten, maybe, or 
a fifteen. It wasn’t exact. So being from out of 
town and being a kind of a know-it-all, maybe, 
I thought, “Well, that’s a dumb way to run a 
Bingo parlor. We’ll run the way we do.” And 
we did: two fives and a ten, two fives and a 
fifteen. So we did. We tried it that way, and it 
didn’t work. The Reno players were used to 
the six-dollar games they liked. And five isn’t 
six, and then they would complain about it. 
“Why don’t you—?” 

Gambling in Reno, 1937-1946 


“Why? We were runnin’ a ten every couple 

“Oh, poohy on that. Just run—. 

And so we were a little stubborn about it, 
maybe longer than we should be. We stayed 
with our fives and our tens. And then we 
had the markers, which I still prefer the fact 
we made round markers, that just fit perfect. 
And they used lima beans here, and the old 
customers were used to the beans. And, 
in fact, they used to—’’Why don’t you use 

“Well, we like the markers better.” 

And course, we were outside to start with, 
you know; and they were lookin’ at us—’’Who 
are you guys?” Plus the fact that it got to be 
the point where we did develop a few regular 
customers because the business was so lousy, 
they couldn’t help winning and makin’ some 
money. But they’d bring their own beans! 
They’d bring [laughs] a whole box of beans 
and push ours away and put ’em on there. 

But anyway, we opened up; and it wasn’t 
good at all—just bad right from the start— 
bad, bad, bad. And I’d go around look at the 
Jap’s, I always called it (the Reno Club). And 
the Fortune’s right across. Fortune didn’t do 
too good. They didn’t run it as well as the 
Japs ran theirs. But the Fortune would have 
a pretty good crowd, and I’d think, “Well, I 
wonder how it is on Virginia Street.” And 
I’d go over and look, and they’d have a good 
crowd. And I remember saying, “The place 
to have a Bingo parlor in Reno is on Virginia 
Street,” ’cause head for head, the Reno Club, 
which was the name of the one on Virginia 
Street, was always ahead of the Fortune. And I 
credited location ’cause the Fortune Club was 
a beautiful place, but it was also managed by 
what’s pretty bad—the Fortune. 

But anyway, we ran—October thirty- 
first—we lasted six weeks, which is the 
middle of December. And we were losing 

money just about every day. And I didn’t have 
a big bank roll at all, so I would either go to 
L.A. to get money, or I’d call my father and 
he’d wire me some. He didn’t have much. He’d 
get it here and there, you know, two hundred 
dollars at a time. And it’s actually a—Mr. 
Ring may have told you that there were days 
we opened at two o’clock, I think; and it’d be 
noon or one o’clock we’re waitin’ for the wire 
from L.A. to get the two hundred dollars that 
we can open up with. But we never missed 
an opening. We always—but it was scrapin’ 
pretty hard. 

Then there’s a lot of funny stories, too, like 
one time Mr. Ring—he was very ingenious. 
And one time when I was somewhere—I 
might’ve been out drinkin’ or somethin’ and 
not payin’ attention—and he didn’t have any 
money, and we had a couple of slot machines 
in the place. They weren’t set to play; they 
were just there, you know, like some slot 
machines still are where they’re just—you 
know, on your way out you put a nickel in, 
but nobody stands and plays them. But they 
would pick up a few nickels and dimes. And 
anyway, he robbed the slot machines, as we 
say. He emptied them and changed it into 
money, so we could open up. He was super 
in those days— well, he still is. 

But anyway, it was real bad; but then when 
that opened, we advertised a lot and all. So 
this little place that was real shaky over there 
next to the Wine House, which then he was 
just on a shoestring—so we opened, he didn’t 
last three days; he just closed. And it became 
for sale for six hundred or whatever, and we 
bought it and then moved. 

How did you advertise? 

In the newspaper, yeah. 

That was kind of an innovation at that time. 


William F. Harrah 

Yeah, a little bit. They advertised, but 
mostly courtesy ads. But then we advertised, 
yeah. And you put signs in your windows; 
you’d have like a grocery store that you have 
somebody make the signs. But it was fun. It 
was—I mean a lot of worries, but you know, 
you’re young, you’re hustlin’, and drinkin’ a 
little bit. 

I was convinced without any question as 
soon as I saw Reno that—and we did know 
how to run a Bingo parlor; if we got the right 
location, no reason we couldn’t operate. So 
it was just a question of getting the location. 
And I didn’t realize—which is very difficult 
in a new city. Oh, I don’t care if you’re in 
the theater business or gas station business 
or whatever. There’s a pattern there, and it 
looks so great; and you—”Oh, gee, look at 
this lot!”—and you go grab it. And all those 
stations are over here; and when you find 
there’s a reason there, or the people are used 
to going there. It’s, you know, you can’t beat 
a newcomer. And of course, sometimes a 
newcomer can see a lot of things the old- 
timers can’t see. They just got blind from—you 
know. But also you got to respect—there is a 
way that town is laid out. There’s a reason for 
it. And you better really study that before. Just 
don’t go in—”Oh my God, here’s a vacant lot! 
Let me grab it!” You can sure get fooled. 

Well, then we opened, and we competed 
very strongly with the Heart Tango and Ed 
Howe. And we counted his players; he didn’t 
pay too much attention to us, but then he was 
very independent. But then there was a Tom 
Smith, which was his manager there—a nice 
fellow. He became a friend of mine. And Tom 
would—well, I gotta meet Tom after work. 
And it was oh, maybe kind of secretive, but 
not too much—like we’d go across the street 
and drink or somethin’. And he and I were 
friends— or became friends—and Ed Howe 
didn’t really have any friends. But I cultivated 

Tom, but Tom was—it’s a funny story. He 
never really worked for us in the pit, as we 
say. He worked for us in Bingo for a while, 
but then he moved around. 

But for the last ten, fifteen years he’s 
worked for us in Las Vegas, and he’s our— 
what do you call ’em? There’s a word for it. 
And he just fits in perfectly. He loves the job. 
He goes to all the hotels in Vegas and all the 
downtown, which is a lot of ’em now. And he 
sends a daily report on how the new Bingo’s 
doin’ and how they’re doin’, or how the new 
show at the Caesar’s is and how many people 
Frank Sinatra had last night, and really a 
very—he loves it. 

Kind of an intelligence report. 

Yeah. He’s kind of a snoopy guy, anyway. 
Everybody likes him ’cause he’s friendly, and 
he kids around a little bit. And he goes around, 
and it’s very valuable. For a while there some 
of the guys wanted to discontinue it. They 
said, “What’s—” you know, “that’s a friend of 
yours. You’re just tryin to help him out.” 

And I said, “Well, boy, you’re not readin’ 
those good,” which they weren’t. And then 
maybe we directed him a little better. But like 
a new star will open; you see ’em on TV, and 
oh, they’re pretty good, but how will they do 
in nightclub? It’s not the same. So ninety-nine 
times out of a hundred— except for maybe 
John Denver or someone—they opened in 
Vegas. And so we have a perfect showcase. 
So they open in Vegas, and we get a report— 
but it’s in the paper, of course. But usually 
[a] newspaper review s written either very 
negative or very friendly—and not necessarily 
that’s the way the show was—but the reporter, 
which you have to admit will happen, is 
the friend of the owner or something. So 
it’s—you know, it’s the stinkin’ act. But he 

Gambling in Reno, 1937-1946 


can’t say “stinkin’,” so he says, “Oh, it’s—” you 
know—”da da da da da.” 

But Tom Smith says it was stinkin’, you 
know. So II laughs]— and they’re lookin’ 
around for somebody else and all that. So he’s 
extremely valuable that way. 

It’s always fun to see a person that’s in a job 
that they like. And he was married; his wife 
died. He’s alone now. And he’s as old as I am, 
or maybe a little older. But he’s bustin’ around 
that Strip and then got his little counter in his 
pocket, and he has a little spending money— 
not a lot— but he knows every maitre d’ 
and every captain; and he can actually get 
(I don’t know if we should put that—). Well, 
information that I don’t think they’d want us 
to know, we’re getting. He’s—but all those 
years—what is that? ’Thirty-eight to ’77—. 

Do the other casino owners keep people out 
like that? 

They do a little, but I don’t know if 
anybody does it as extensive. We do it in Reno, 
too, of course. We do it at Tahoe. And we have 
a daily, and it’s always the same time so that 
there’s no—you know, you can’t do—we’ve 
had ’em doin’ hit or miss. So yesterday they 
had a hundred slot players, and today they had 
two-fifty. “Well, gee whiz, look at that! What 
happened?” But this was at ten in the morning 
and noon or so, you know. So we have to—you 
have to do it right. So we do it. I don’t know 
if there’s any people do it as thoroughly as we 
do, but there may be. 

And we check the Sahara at the Lake, and 
they have stars up there that sometimes won’t 
play Vegas. And we get an instant feedback; 
we have a real good man up there. And well, 
like quite often, Sahara’s gone into—well, 
they try everything, which is okay. I believe 
in tryin things. But they will hire rock groups 
(and you know what they are) and they will 

fill the theater restaurant or almost fill it— 
thousand—but they’re teenagers. And so 
they—I guess they charge ’em; maybe they 
make money on ’em. But the casino dies; it 
just—. And they will actually run the good 
players out. But we get an instant feedback. 
Then there are some names that we never 
thought of playing, and they will play ’em, 
and then we’ve checked, and nine times out 
of ten, it is a bunch of kids. 

But we competed with Howe and ran 
stronger, and we got stronger and stronger. 
And Tom would tell me—he was workin’ for 
Howe. So he was loyal there. He would tell 
me a little bit, maybe a little more than he 
should, but he still wouldn’t tell me everything 
I wanted to know. But he would tell me a little 
about Howe’s moods and all and that he—I 
think that’s where I got the feeling he wanted 
to get away—’cause he’d made money. He’d run 
his place real good for ten years or so. And I 
found out, and it may have been from Tom—. 
I was getting ready to negotiate—or I wanted 
to buy him out, but I didn’t have any money. 
But if I could get the Heart Tango, then I had 
it made. 

So I thought about it an awful lot. And 
I’m not sure of the sequence, but I believe 
that talkin’ to Tom, I learned that the old man 
didn’t really like the Bingo or competition. 
See, before, he’d had the only two-for-a-nickel 
in town, and he just had it his own way. And 
now he had some competition, some serious 
competition. And it was hard work, and he 
had to kinda change things, and we ran longer 
hours, he had to run longer hours. And it just 
wasn’t—he didn’t like it. 

And then I learned somehow that he had 
been thinkin’ about retiring, and he was the 
kind of man that couldn’t leave, It was his 
place, and he couldn’t delegate. So in ten years, 
he’d never taken a day off—one of those kind 


William F. Harrah 

of people, you know. He didn’t really trust 
anybody So you imagine after say ten—may 
have been fifteen or maybe eight years—but 
work every day for that long that you’re gonna 
be up to here. 

So he bought this trailer. That’s when they 
first started making real fancy trailers, and 
it was—when I’d learned what kind it was, 
I was taken back on my heels ’cause it was 
an extremely expensive trailer. Maybe it was 
only ten thousand dollars then, but it was a 
super—you know—thirty feet or something. 
So then he had this, and he wanted to go; and 
he couldn’t go because he was tied up with the 
place. So it was just—you can kinda get the 
picture, he wanted to get away. 

So anyway I finally went to see him. And I 
called him up—and it took a lot of nerve—but 
I called him up. 

“Ed, Bill Harrah. Can I see you?” 

And he said, “Sure, Bill! Can you come 
over in an hour?” 

I said, “All right.” 

So I went over, and he had a little bitty 
office, and it was in this storeroom, and 
there’s a stairway—went upstairs— the hotel 
upstairs—and o’ course, the stairway cut into 
the room a little bit. He had a little office under 
the stairs which was pretty good, but you had 
to go in and sit down [ducks] as you went 
in, you know. But I remember it, I walked in 
there, and everybody was amazed to see me. 
And then when Ed and I went into his office, 
why, word was “bzz bzz bzz”— all the dealers 
and all the customers, too. “What’s goin’ on?” 

So I sat down, and “Ed, nice to meet you,” 
da da da. And I said, “Would you consider 
selling this place?” 

And he said, “Oh,” he said, “I don’t know.” 
He played it pretty cool. He said, “I don’t 
know.” He said, “I do pretty good here.” And 
he said, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” tie said, 
“Well, let me think about it.” 

So “Okay.” So I was going to see him the 
next day or something. 

So I went to see him. “You want to sell it?” 

“Yeah, I’ll sell it. Twenty-five thousand 

And so I said, “Oooh, oooh.” And I was 
never too good; why, I’m a lot better now 
at negotiating right from scratch without 
thinkin’. So I said [deep voice], “Well uh, I’ll 
have to think about that.” 

So I left. And I remember I went across the 
street to the—can’t remember the name of the 
bar. Bob Ring would remember. That’s where 
we hung out. And I sat at the bar, and I started 
drinkin’; and I thought, “Gee, that’s terrible. If I 
could just get that place, I’d have it”—you know. 
And “Darn guy,” and “it’s his place. He can ask 
what he wants for it, but if he just would sell it. 
He can’t make any money there with us runnin’. 
And if he’d just sell it to us at a low price and 
we could close the other one, we could move 
in there and run it. I could make—we could all 
make some money. He’d be down in Arizona 
with his trailer; he’d be happy. And just the only 
problem to the whole scenario is his twenty- 
five-thousand-dollar price.” 

So I don’t know if it was that day or the 
next day—I’m not sure—but I was drinkin 
real good. (That’s the wrong word—heavy. 
But still in those days when you’re young, you 
can drink an awful lot and still think and walk 
and everything.) And I drank and drank, and 
I got my nerve up, and I called Ed up, and I 
said (I was kind of tough, too)—I said [gruff 
voice], “Ed. Bill Harrah. Can I see ya?” 

And he said, “Yeah, come on over.” 

So I went over, and boy I was—and I’d 
really gotten kinda mad at Ed because of my 
thinkin’: if he’d just go sell me his place and go 
pull his trailer, and I could, you know— he’s 
stoppin’ me. It’s almost like he was selfish. 

So I went over, and I went under the stairs 
with him; and I says, “Okay, Ed, I’ve thought 

Gambling in Reno, 1937-1946 


about.” And I said, “I’m not gonna give you 
twenty-five thousand dollars for this place.” I 
said, “I’m gonna give you three”—which took 
a lot of nerve! “And it’s not gonna be cash; it’s 
gonna be a thousand dollars down, a thousand 
dollars in thirty days, and a thousand dollars 
in sixty days.” And I really thought he’d throw 
me out. 

And he says, “Hmm, hmm.” He says, “Let 
me think about it.” [Chuckles] 

So I thought, “Oh-oh.” I said, “Okay. 
When can I call?” 

He said, “Call me tomorrow.” 

So I said, “Okay.” 

So I went out, and I thought, “Gee whiz, 
he didn’t throw me out! At least he’s thinkin’ 
about it.” 

So I called him the next day. And I called 
him at—I restrained myself. I didn’t call at six 
in the morning; I waited till about one o’clock 
or somethin’, and I called him. He answered 
and he said, “Come on over.” 

So I went over, and he said—he didn’t 
ask for more. He said, “Yeah, I think that’s 
okay. That’s a deal.” And he said, “Who’s your 

And I didn’t have a lawyer then, and 
there was—. (Hmm, what’d I do? Oh yeah, 
that was how it happened.) Bob Douglass’s 
attorney was William McKnight. And I got 
acquainted with William McKnight through 
Bob Douglass, and then McKnight became 
my attorney. That was it. 

Okay, so we went to McKnight, which was 
fine with Ed. He didn’t—I said, “Do you have 
a lawyer?” 

And he said, “Yeah.” 

And I said, “Well, mine’s McKnight.” 

Then he said, “Oh, I know—” was it Bill 

He says, “Well, he’s good enough for me.” 
He said, “You don’t need my lawyer; let’s just 
go see Bill.” 

So Ed and I went up to Bill McKnight— 
and that was across the street upstairs—and 
went in there—’’Okay, a thousand dollars now, 
a thousand dollars in thirty days, a thousand 
dollars in sixty days. 

So McKnight said—he said, “This is a little 
awkward representing both parties. But,” he 
said, “I’ll keep it straight.” So he said—and he 
turned to me—’’Bill,” he said, it’s not to your 
advantage. This is to Ed’s. But,” he said, “I have 
to ask what’s the security for this three—you’re 
payin’ a thousand dollars down. What’s the 
security for the two thousand dollars?” 

And of course, I didn’t have anything, and 
I went, “Ooh, uh, mm.” 

And I’ll never forget—Ed spoke up and 
said, “Oh hell, Bill,” meaning Bill McKnight, 
he said, “He doesn’t need any security.” He 
said, “When he gets this place, he’s gonna close 
his other one, and he’s gonna make it three 
times over.” He said, “No problem. Just leave 
it out.” So he left out— which really—you 
know, I—. Of course, I liked him very much 
for sellin it to me for that price; but I never 
forgot how nice he was on that ’cause he could 
have screwed it up. But he just wanted to get 
out of town so bad. 

So I think we signed the papers; I paid 
the thousand, and then I took over the next 
day, something like that. And he was of f in 
his trailer—just “good-bye.” And then we did 
all that we planned to do. We closed the other 
place, and this was instant money. And then 
we fixed it up. He had crummy little stools, 
and we put nice stools in; and the whole thing 
went again. And we made money just from 
Day One there. 

I’m tryin’ to think of the landlord’s name. 
Oh—Mark Yori. He was a funny old guy! And 
he was our landlord on Commercial Row in 
that little—next to the Wine House, he was 
the landlord. And Bob Ring used to get the 
biggest kick out of him because the first of the 


William F. Harrah 

month the rent was due, and Mr. Yori would 
be there. Not the second, he was there the first. 
And of course, I guess he figured we maybe 
weren’t gonna make it. But Bob was always 
a kidder, and so he would— I remember he 
would get Mr. Yori so we would be in like—we 
opened at two o’clock, so we’d get there maybe 
at one to, you know, get it ready to—maybe 
one-fifteen sometimes. And no matter when 
we got there, Mr. Yori’d be waiting at the door. 
So we, then—Bob Ring’d usually unlock it, but 
I was around, of course. And he’d say, “Oh, 
hello, Mr. Yori! I-low are you?” 

He said, “da da da da da,” and he wouldn’t 
know it, and Bob would have the check. And 
“so on, so on,” and do everything else, you 
know. Mr. Yori’d just stand there. 

And he would finally get everything done, 
but there’s nothing else, and Bob would go 
over to him: “Oh, Mr. Yori—” shake hands 
again or somethin’—’’nice of you to come out. 
Anything we can do for you?” [Laughs] 

Mr. Yori—”My rent! My rent!” 

And Bob—”Oh, that! Oh, yeah!” And 
then he’d—oh, he’d really put—and then he’d 
go in the office alone and fumble through the 
drawers and try and—you know-.-”Hey Bill, 
where’s the rent?” 

Then I got in on it, you know. “What 
rent?” [laughing] I says to Yori. 

Then we moved around, and it was the 
Chase Building there. But Mr. Yori—he 
owned about every other piece of property in 
town. And I knew that because about every 
place—and I’d looked at other locations, and 
Yori was always the landlord. So I’d go in to see 
him; I got to know him pretty good. His office 
was down in the next block on Commercial 
Row. He owned the whole block. 

So I went—when we moved around to 
Howe and bought him out—. So then Chase 
owned the building, but Yori was the agent. 
So then you had to deal with Yori. And I 

remember I spent so much time ’cause Yori 
was as slow as molasses—was the slowest man 
I ever saw. And no matter whether it was his 
property or someone [else’s], he wanted every 
dime he could get. And he didn’t like long 
leases. He wanted to be able to raise the rent. 
So I think at the Heart Tango there, we’d get 
three years—was all we could get. And it got 
to be—I think we were there quite awhile— 
or maybe two years. I’d get a lease and agree 
upon—then it’d take about a year before I’d 
actually get the lease in my hand. But after I 
got the new lease, it was agreed upon. 

Then I would start working on an 
extension. I knew that much. So, like say it 
was two years; and maybe after the second 
month, I would—”Mr. Yori, I want to see you.” 

“Okay.” And I’d go over to his little hotel 
there and go upstairs; he had a little office, and 
I went in. I said, “I gotta have a longer lease 

And he said, “Well, you just got a lease.” 

“Well, yeah, but I gotta have—gee whiz, 
you know. I want to know what’s—.” That’s the 
story that you tell your landlords, and nobody 
ever believes it. It’s that you’re gonna remodel, 
you’re gonna do this, you’re gonna do that. I 
said, “I have to do that and that and that in 
order to get my money back. I have to have a 
longer lease,” you know. 

“Well, let me think about it.” 

And I would—all those years I saw Mr. 
Yori at least two or three times a month 
just tryin’ to get the lease. And so finally 
we would—like I had two years to go, and 
maybe it’d take me a year and a half to finally 
agree upon a two-year extension. And then 
it would take another six months to a year 
to actually get the extension in writing in 
my hand. And then I’d start again, So it was 
just a constant—. And I remember saying to 
myself and probably Bob Ring, “If I can ever 
get a long lease or own the property, am I 

Gambling in Reno, 1937-1946 


gonna do it.” It just was that I was neglecting 
my business, really—. That was a real good 
lesson there, learning that. 

But anyway, we were there some time, and 
next door was the Reno Club, the Jap’s place. 
Then there was another one up a little ways— 
Robbins. They had one there; they didn’t 
amount to much. They kinda came late. And 
then there was the Fortune Club, and then 
there was one over there on the corner that a 
fellow from south of Long Beach—there were 
Bingo parlors all through southern California 
by then. And I knew where they all were; it 
was my business. So I went around and looked 
at ’em, and I met a lot of the owners. I didn’t 
go in, but I just—you got acquainted, you 
know, one way or the other like “where do 
you buy your cards?” or “where do you buy 
your beans?” or anything. 

But there were some operators, and it 
was south of Long Beach—a little bitty town 
there—and you had to be politically okay in 
this little town; I didn’t even know it was there. 
And he figured it out and got one or two Bingo 
parlors there. And he could run bigger pots or 
something than they could in Long Beach. So 
he was doin’ pretty good. And I got acquainted 
with him a little bit and admired him as a good 
operator. And later, they got closed. 

In the meantime, we’re up here; we’re 
goin’ pretty good, and then we’re—got the 
Heart Tango. And there was Reno Club and 
the Fortune Club. Well, he opened a Bingo 
parlor on the corner over there across—that’s 
where Don’s Drug is. He put a Bingo parlor 
in there, which is the wrong side of the street 
and all. He was a pretty good operator. And 
he opened up. Then we competed a little, but 
he only ran a month or somethin’. And he 
could see it was no good, so he said, “To hell 
with it,” and I think he went back to southern 
California. I haven’t seen him in years. He had 
some money, so—. 

But there it sat, and there’s nothing more 
dangerous than a fully equipped Bingo parlor 
sitting vacant with a sign in the window, “For 
sale or rent,” because someone comes along 
and rents it and opens up. So it sat there, 
and we didn’t have the money to handle it; 
and then I didn’t feel either if I had it, that 
maybe—I mean knowing what I know now, 
when they closed, I’d’ve immediately gone to 
the Reno Club and the Fortune Club and say, 
“Hey, let’s buy that place and make a drugstore 
out of it.” Or if they didn’t want to go, then 
I’d’ve done it myself. I’d’ve been money ahead; 
but, you know, you didn’t think that way then 
or didn’t know that much. 

Anyway, we did nothing; and it sat there. 
I think there was another operator down in 
there and tried it and zero. It was still there, 
and then a fella came along—I don’t know his 
name—he was Russian—and we called him 
the mad Russian, ’cause we didn’t like him. 

And there was a Mrs. Carey, and she was a 
lovely little old lady. She’s like on the TV, if you 
wanted to put somebody’s grandmother— 
sweet, old grandmother—that’s what she 
looked like—you know—kinda chubby and 
round cheeks. She was a wealthy woman 
that had come here, and I don’t know if she 
came here for a divorce or how she got here. 
And the mad Russian and I—well, Mr. Ring’d 
remember his name if it matters. He was a 
promoter, and he looked like a Russian. His 
clothes were—well, like a hustling Russian. 
He wore his hair very long, which wasn’t 
fashionable then. He had a kind of a flowing 
tie like an artist, and his hat with the brim 
tipped up on one side and down on the 
other—that kind of a guy. And he kissed 
hands and clicked heels and things like that. 

And Mrs. Carey—he’d promoted her, and 
she thought he was just the neatest thing ever. 
She was really stuck on him; and he was forty 
or something, and she was sixty or something, 


William F. Harrah 

and just a dumpy little old lady. But boy she 
was stuck on him! And whatever he wanted, 
he got. And I think we got acquainted—they 
came around and played Bingo and—. And 
of course, you size up your customers, and 
they were very good customers. But we also 
caught on she had the money, and so we were 
super nice to them, of course. 

Then he promoted her into this empty 
Bingo parlor over there; and fine, if he wanted 
it, he got it. And they opened it up, and he was 
the manager. It was her money, of course. So 
he just did absolutely crazy things—like the 
pots were, two for a dime, six dollars. So he 
went to maybe two for a dime, eight dollars or 
ten dollars or twelve dollars—he didn’t care. 

And so they ran. So it was instant turmoil 
in the Bingo business. And he was hurting 
everyone—of course, the place was full; but 
they still—wed checked ’em very closely—and 
still with their full house and their big pots, 
well, they just weren’t makin’ it. And then 
they were gettin’ robbed, too, ’cause he didn’t 
know anything about the business, and the 
dealers can steal if you don’t know how to 
watch ’em. So we found out enough that she 
had unlimited—I think we checked with the 
bank, which was kinda hard to do, but, you 
know, “What is Mrs. Carey’s account?” And I 
think we found she had a couple of hundred 
thousand dollars in the bank or something— 
just huge amount, you know, for those times. 

And then we got into her other—. Either 
her father or her husband or her ex-husband 
(he probably died) had invented— well, 
had invented—but was either the founder 
or the principal owner or the owner of the 
Molybdenum Company of America. And 
that’s a very rare metal; it’s only found certain 
places. And it’s extremely valuable, and when 
you mix it with iron, you know, you get 
molybdenum steel, and that’s the strongest. 
That’s why the Ford Model T and the Wills 

St. Claire cars and all were such quality cars 
because they had molybdenum steel in them, 
and it was very expensive. Anyway, it was a 
zillion-dollar company, and she owned a big 
chunk of that. So we thought well, she can go 

So while they were running—and it was a 
very, very difficult Bingo war—toughest one 
we ever had. Everybody got into it, and it was 
really touch-and-go then—it was just day- 
today. And with our little two-for-a-nickel, 
six-for-a-dime, we were hurtin’ real bad. And 
of course, the two-for-a-dimers, they stayed 
with their schedules or tried to compete with 
him. We competed only on a half scale, which 
was fine. And course, we had the places full— 
all the places in town were full, and cards like 
that [spreads arms] because of these huge 
pots. And there were four Bingo parlors in 
Reno full every day, but everybody was losin’ 
money—the pots got so big. So it was just a 
question of who lasted. 

Well, we found out that Mrs. Carey wasn’t 
gonna go broke, and then we were hopin’ that 
they would split up or somethin’. And she just 
thought he was neat. And we thought, “Well, 
how can she stand him when he’s losin’ all 
this money for her?” and just didn’t bother 
her a bit—. He’d say, “I’m needin’ some more 
money,” and she’d go write a check—no 
problem. So it was really scary. 

So the three of us—it was Joe Zemansky 
and Freddie Aoyama (worked for the Reno 
Club) and me—and we worked together. 
And finally it got so desperate that we met 
daily— “What are we gonna do next?”—and 
we all did the same thing. And we went to the 
[city] council—’’Can’t we get,” you know, “get 
it stopped?” 

And they said, “No, we believe in—you 
know—once we get into that, then we’ll have 
to tell ’em how to run their Craps and all,” 
which was a pretty good point. 

Gambling in Reno, 1937-1946 


But we were tryin’ everything and talkin’ 
to everybody we knew and workin’ and 
workin’ and workin. And I remember Freddie 
Aoyama, who’s still here—and we’re friends; I 
see him once in awhile. He sells tires or sells 
somethin’ automotive, and I’ll see him in the 
garage once a year. And we say, “How do you 
do? How do you do? How are ya?” His wife— 
and he had a real neat wife. 

But Freddie was a little arrogant, and 
kinda cocky; and they had a lot of money, the 
Japs. And all they needed, they just could call 
Japan or L.A. and get more money. 

And Joe Zemansky was kind of on a 
shoestring—I didn’t know that. He had a 
big fancy place, but he didn’t have too much 
money. And we all started cornin’ out—who 
had what and everything. 

So anyway, we re workin’, we’re workin’ 
every angle we could. So finally we thought, 
“We can’t beat ’em with money, we can’t this 
and that,” so then we got somebody to get 
to the Russian. And we didn’t bribe him; he 
was interested in something like a dance 
school or something that she didn’t like for 
some reason. We got all this out, you know, 
which you can do—snoopin’ and everything. 
But there was something he wanted to get 
into she didn’t want him to get into, and so 
we found that out. And so we talked to him 
that he could—if we could get this thing 
kind of straightened out, we wouldn’t be 
against maybe helpin’ him get some money 
to go into this other thing. And of course, 
he was fed up with her, you know. He didn’t 
like her at all, and she’s hangin on him every 
minute, you know—just kind of a hard way 
to make your money. So he was susceptible 
and listened. 

So anyway, we made a deal, finally, that 
if he could talk Mrs. Carey into lowering the 
pots—that’s all we asked to get back to close 
to where we used to be—then he could have 

this job or this somethin’ somewhere. And it 
was down the road, but it was—’’Okay.” 

So anyway, then we agreed that we were 
gonna run these kind of pots. “Okay, how we 
gonna do it? How are we gonna keep—I know, 
we’ll draw up an agreement”—that was it. 
So— who was the lawyer that was over there 
that was a wonderful man? Upstairs in those 
days? Kearney? 

Bill Kearney. He was Joe Zemansky’s 
lawyer—yeah—and we all respected him, and 
so he became the lawyer for the three of us. 
And we would meet, and any problem, we’d 
go see Bill Kearney—da da da da da. And it 
was right across the street, too. 

So anyway, we were in Bill Kearney’s off 
ice. And the Russian and me and Freddie 
Aoyama and Joe Zemansky—”Oh, we have 
an agreement, Mr. Kearney. We want to—” 
da da da da da. 

Okay, fine,” And he’s drawin it up, and he’s 
got his pencil and paper out, and he’s getting 
notes for it. “Okay,” so on, so on, so on, so. 

And we’re all broke then—I mean Joe and 
I are broke. And Freddie still had plenty of 
money. And the Russian and Mrs. Carey, they 
had plenty of money—we were sittin there, 
we re makin this agreement, and Joe and I are 
kinda—and Joe and I would talk, too, behind 
Freddie’s back, you know. We would have a 
meeting, and then Joe and I would meet later. 
This Freddie was a little treacherous. (So I 
understand how Pearl Harbor happened, but 
that’s me, that’s me.) 

But okay, we’re agreeing on this, and 
so Mr. Kearney— well, quite properly, he 
said, “Well, what’s the consideration of this 

And so I said, “Well, what do you mean? 
What do you mean?” 

He said, “Well, it should be something. 
What if someone violates it? Where are we? 
And so shouldn’t there be somethin’?” 


William F. Harrah 

“Oh yeah.” 

So the Russian, who’s got plenty of 
money—and he was a little cocky—pretty 
cocky still—he said, “Well, I think we should 
each put up two thousand dollars in cash, and 
you can hold it, Mr. Kearney, and the first one 
that violates it loses his two thousand dollars, 
and we’ll lay out the schedule,” da da da. 

And so I’m goin’, “Ooh, brother.” 

So Joe and I are lookin’ kind of funny, and 
we look at Freddie, and Freddie said, “That’s 
fine with us. We’ll put up our two thousand 
dollars!” [Laughing] 

So Joe said, “What?” He said, “I don’t 
have that in my pocket.” Joe was a real quick 
thinker, you know. “Sorry, I don’t have that 
in my pocket, but I’ll um—let’s meet at two o 
clock this afternoon (which he was—this was 
the morning). He was just stalling for time, 
which was good. 

So “Okay, everybody. We’ll come back at 
two o’clock.” And so we left, Joe and Freddie 
and I left. So, when we got rid of Freddie, 
Joe and I got together. We’re walkin’ up the 
street, and I says, “Joe,” I said, “I don’t have 
two thousand dollars.” 

And he said, “Neither do I!” [Laughs] 

And I says, “Well, what do we do, what do 
we do?” I said, “We got it made and—” you 
know. And two thousand is like two hundred 

And he says, “Let’s go see Eddie Questa.” 

And so—this is still in the morning—so 
we went up, and that’s the first time I’d met— 
I’d seen Eddie around town— first time I’d met 
him. And he was down on the corner in the 
bank there; so we went in, and Joe introduced 
me. And of course Eddie was—had the big 
mortgage on the Fortune Club, so he was 
really watchin’ the thing all the way. And so 
we’re here—well, we’ve got to send Joe in. 

Eddie was delighted to know there’s an 
agreement ’cause he’d been supplyin’ money 

over there, and bankers don’t like to keep 
puttin’ money out. So “Oh, that’s great.” 

And Joe says, “Yeah, but here’s the catch.” 
He said, “We gotta put up two thousand 
dollars.” And he said, “I don’t have it,” and he 
said, “Bill here, I don’t think has it either. He 
asked me. And Joe Zemansky was a double- 
crosser but was really nice there. He said, 
“Now Bill, here,” you know—’’needs a little 
help, too, Eddie.” 

So Eddie thought about it quite properly, 
and he thought, “Da da da da da da da.” And 
he said, “Well,” he said, “I may have to talk to 
somebody on this. But it’s eleven-forty-five— 
why don’t you fellows come back after lunch 
around one o’clock, one-thirty.” 


So we left and na na na na na. And then 
we came back. So Eddie said, “It’s okay for 
you, Joe—it’s all right. But,” he said, “Bill,” 
he said, “Eve heard a lot about you—it’s all 
good—but,” he said, “I don’t have anything on 
you.” He said, “You got a little account here, 
but nothin’—you know— nothing financial.” 
But he said, “You’re from L.A.—you banked 
down there, didn’t you?” 

And I said, “Yeah.” 

He said, “Did you make any loans?” 

And I said, “Well, not really—a little bit.” 

And he said, “Well, do you have someone 
I can call?” He said, “I really have to get 
somethin’ besides—.” He said, “As far as I’m 
concerned, you’re okay.” But he said, “To 
keep me—me, Eddie Questa—clean, I have 
to really get somethin’ else.” 

And so there was a friend of ours in 
L.A.—what’s his name?—it’s an important 
name, too—Phil Simon. He was a Jewish fella 
who had married a Gentile lady, which was 
kinda big news in those days. And his wife’s 
name was Bayonne, I remember—pretty first 
name. And she was a very close friend of my 
mother’s. So through that, we met Phil Simon; 

Gambling in Reno, 1937-1946 


and of course, he was the only Jew in anybody 
we knew—the only Jewish person. And of 
course, we were a little suspicious. And there 
are Jews and Jews; of course, there’s Irish and 
Irish— there’s all kinds—but there are many 
Jews that are kinda chiselers. But Phil was 
just so far the other way. I think because he 
was Jewish, he might have gone—but he was 
just And to this day I can say Phil was just 
the nicest man I ever met. And then he was a 
super banker. He had a little bitty bank, and he 
ran it up to three banks, and finally he died of 
a heart attack. And he just didn’t miss a bet; he 
was right on top of everything and would do 
anything he could to help ya and just a super 

g u y- 

So I gave Eddie, Phil’s number. And so 
Eddie called Phil. And boy, he couldn’t’ve 
called a better person ’cause when I came 
back, you know, from my one-thirty or one- 
forty-five, I was kinda like that [frightened 
face]. And he says, “Who is this guy Simon 
you gave me?” 

I said, “Well, he’s so-and-so.” 

And he said, “Well, boy, either you’re all 
right or he sure thinks you are,” he said. “He 
couldn’t’ve said enough good things about 
you. So,” he said, “You can have the two 
thousand,” which was just unbelievable— 
’cause I had no security. So he gave me a note, 
which I still have; after I paid it off, I framed 
it. And I used to keep it in my office. I guess 
I ought to put it back. Well, it’s a beauty—it’s 
a note for two thousand dollars [drawing 
a note], and it’s a regular bank note—you 
know—two thousand da da da. And then in 
the corner—or this corner, or somethin’—in 
pencil, is “Okay, E.Q.” Then I used to show— 
see this used to be Eddie’s office here where 
we are. [First National Bank building]. He was 
a super guy with me. 

Anyway, we put up the two thousand 
dollars and went back to the schedule, and 

then, of course, the other place, being in a 
bum location, they only ran a week or so 
and folded up. I don’t think we ever had to 
do anything on the other. I think that maybe 
she was through, and maybe he’d stolen some 
money when the thing was goin’ on; but he 
disappeared, and that was the end of it. But 
it was sure scary there for awhile. 

Oh, I’ll tell you a funny one about Freddie. 
Freddie Aoyama did have some good points. 
So when we were workin’ on this, well, 
he and I got very friendly. We weren’t too 
friendly before ’cause we were competitors, 
or he looked down on us— our little two- 
for-a-nickel place. But then he could see— 
although he was a little haughty, but he wasn’t 
a hundred percent—he was pretty good most 
of the time—he could see we were really, you 
know, tryin like heck to straighten things out, 
and we had a lot of good ideas. So the further 
we got into this thing, the more friendlier he 
got because we were all workin’ hard. 

So while it was goin on (I know this is 
later), uh— see, this was ’38. Let me jump 
up to ’42, and then I’ll go back. But this is on 

So when Pearl Harbor in—what was that? 
That was ’41. 

December seventh, and this is—yeah, it 
was ’41, ’71, ’76—yeah, it was thirty-five years 
last year, yeah. But after Pearl Harbor, it was 
a Japanese place, so they had to close. They 
ran maybe a week or two, and it was no local 
thing; it was just I think the owners and all 
and maybe somethin’—. But anyway, they just 
closed up because they were Japanese owners, 
and about half their help was Japanese. So 
they closed up. Freddie wasn’t interned or 
anything; he was still around. And the reason 
they closed was the United States was at war 
with Japan. And although Freddie was an 
American citizen—he was born in Berkeley, 
I think—he was just my age—but he was 


William F. Harrah 

out of business. So with a holdover from the 
Bingo war, I knew him real good, and so I 
immediately went to work to get that place. 
And I had a running start over everybody else 
because Id known Freddie from the Bingo war 
real good. 

“It’s all right, Freddie. Come on!” So 
I’d take him out to dinner—he and his 
wife—which he liked very much. He liked 
to associate with white people socially. 
He thought that was neat. And he had a 
wonderful wife. I still see her once in a while. 
She’s one of the nicest Japanese ladies I ever 
saw—real classy. So we’d go here and there, 
and one night, I’ll never forget, one time we 
were—I took ’em always the newest places, 
and they never had been anywhere in town. 
They just—he would go to work and go home; 
and they would eat at home, you know. And 
they had a little family and just—. So it was a 
big thing to go to nightclubs. 

So I remember we went out to Lawton’s, 
which—you know, it’s had four hundred 
names. I don’t know who owned it then, but 
it was a pretty good nightclub at the time. 
And we went out there for dinner. So we were 
sittin’ at the—and they had some games—and 
so Freddie and I were sittin at the bar. And 
I don’t think I had a date; it was just Freddie 
and I and his wife. And she’d gone to the 
ladies’ room, so it was just Freddie and I. 
And it wasn’t very crowded. And there was 
some drunk there; I don’t know if he was at 
the bar, at the “21” table, or somethin’. He 
came over; he looked at Freddie (he looked 
at him like that [mean expression]), and he 
didn’t grab him, but he might’ve almost got 
his coat, you know. He says, “Hey, you! Who 
are you—Chinaman or a Jap?” 

And Freddie, who was very arrogant 
(and I thought, “Oh my God, we’re gonna 
have a real ‘hey, Rube’ here, and I’m gonna 
be in the middle of it.” I couldn’t fight my 

way out of a paper bag—you know how your 
mind goes) —and Freddie just like that said, 

And the fellow said, “Oh, okay, buddy!” 
and away he went. 

So then I—’’Freddie,” I said—and he was 
always so arrogant, you know— [with put-on 
deep voice] “I’m a bla bla bla bla...” And I said, 
“This guy asked you this way, and you said, 
‘Chinaman.’” I said, “Why did you do that?” 

He said, “Do you think I’m crazy?” 
[Laughs] And my respect for him grew greatly 
right then. I thought, “Well, there’s a guy that 
uses his head.” 

But then ’cause they’re closed, we worked 
on it. And we made a deal with him. We 
couldn’t buy the place, but we leased it ’cause 
they were sure—and they were right—that 
when things cooled down or the war got over, 
maybe even before, they can get back in. So 
I got a lease on it, and I think it was a year- 
to-year thing. But it was quite satisfactory, 
because we got in there, and we kept our Heart 
Tango. So then the Heart Tango remained 
two-for-a-nickel; and the Reno Club, which 
I think we left the name Reno Club— called 
it Harrah’s Reno Club—and made it two-for- 
a-dime. They’d always had a few shills—the 
Japs. And we got rid of the shills—same old 
story—and did real good. That became the 
best Bingo parlor in Reno. 

Might ask you just a little hit going hack into 
this early period of the thirties. This was just at 
the end of the time when Graham and McKay 
and Wingfield had their hold. When you first 
came here, John Cooper was the mayor; and 
Lou Gammell was the chief of police. You 
had said, when we were talking about doing 
the interview, that the police had treated you 
so nice, and the local politicians had been so 
pleasant. The councilman for this area was 
Rags Justi. 

Gambling in Reno, 1937-1946 


He worked at the Bank Club. Yeah, sure. 

Well, I’m glad you brought that up because 
Bill McKnight, who was everybody’s lawyer, 
as I explained—and I got the casino, and I got 
the lease on the one on Center. I wasn’t too 
sure about the license. I think Bob Douglass 
took me over and got the license—that was it. 

And then when I got the Heart Tango, 
I was a little nervous there again. I just—it 
wasn’t—didn’t seem—you know—you should 
have your license in your hand. And I already 
had a license, as it was a new place. And I 
remember I think Bill McKnight took me over. 
And the chief of police had to okay it,, which 
was perfunctory; they okayed everything. But 
that’s when I met Lou Gammell. And he was 
very nice. 

We used to hang around the Bank Club, 
right from the start, because it was the place 
in Reno. The Palace Club was pretty good, 
but the Bank Club was a little better—I mean 
it was a prettier place and everything. But 
we went both places—we’d go to the Palace; 
we’d go to the Bank—and I’m talkin’ about 
our guys; we hung out together. And we’d get 
all—close our place, we’d close at one o’clock. 
Of course, they’re still open. And we would go 
to the Bank Club or the Palace, usually, and 
have a drink and mark a Keno ticket. 

And I was very interested in them, but 
I didn’t have ideas of getting into gambling 
right away, but I thought maybe some day. 
So I just loved to watch how they did things, 
you know. 

And the Bank Club was on the square, 
which was—most places weren’t. The Palace 
Club was, too, but I think those are the only 
two places in town that I can say were really 
on the square. 

I thought that was a very interesting distinction. 
Did you not consider Bingos as gambling at 
that time? 

No, it was gambling, yeah. I just— 
’’gambling place”—I used that instead of 
“casino” or “gambling house”—that’s kinda 

There was Graham and McKay and Jack 
Sullivan. And Jack was the manager, and 
he was just the manager. And he was really 
interested in Faro Bank for some reason. So 
he used to—well, he would hang out over 
there—sit by the Faro Bank. But he was the 
manager and then almost a figurehead ’cause 
it was Graham and McKay—they were—. 
And McKay wasn’t around too much, but Bill 
Graham was around a lot. 

Then when they had to go away to 
prison—that was for, you know, six or eight 
years; it was a pretty good stretch— then 
Sullivan became the boss, and they left him 
in full charge. And he was really the boss. 
You can get Jack Sullivan’s okay, why—. And 
he was the fixer, you know; he was the one 
that—. But the Bank Club was on the square, 
and all the other places were cheaters—a 
lot of little places; it was their way of doin’ 
business. The Bank Club, although they were 
on the square, they didn’t mind the other 
people cheating because they would get some 
money by cheating, o’ course, and they’d wind 
up at the Bank Club, so the Bank Club would 
eventually get it all. So they were for the little 

And I remember one time my first dollar 
slot machine that we had when we got the 
Blackout Bar, which was later—I’ll tell you 
about that later—but was a dollar machine 
in there. It was the first dollar machine I’d 
ever owned, and it was war time—they quit 
makin’ them—so they were very hard to get, 
and they were very expensive. I mean like a 
slot machine was sixty dollars or something, 
and this dollar machine, I think it cost six or 
seven hundred. And it was fun having a dollar 
machine, plus it made a little money. 


William F. Harrah 

But I was so proud of it. Anyway, I went 
home or something—I didn’t always stay 
till the bar closed—and then, why, we were 
robbed. We lost some liquor, and we lost our 
dollar slot machine, which was a tremendous 
tragedy in that the liquor was replaceable, 
although it was very hard to get; but the dollar 
slot machine was irreplaceable. And it was an 
inside job. You could know that because they 
got it just at the right time, and they had to 
have a car at the back door out in the alley 
and everything. I told the police everything 
I knew, I called a cop right away, which you 
weren’t supposed to do. But I did—that’s the 
way I was brought up. 

So they caught the fellas. It was a bartender 
of ours in connection with a crossroader from 
across the street at a— can’t remember the 
bartender’s name, but the crossroader was 
Frank Sheely. He was a real rough guy. He was 
one of those cheaters that’ll do anything, you 
know, and I think including murder maybe, 
although I couldn’t prove it, but—. And he 
was a perfect crossroader ’cause he was kinda 
husky looking— he wasn’t fat—he was well 
built in pretty good shape, rugged features, 
and he dressed very well, and he just looked 
like a retired cowboy that had made it a little 
bit. And he had a little drawl, and he was as 
smooth a talker as there was. And he was a 
real super cheater. Anyway, he’s the one that 
got our slot machine, which we found out. 
So they wanted me to—he came to see me or 
somebody came and, “Please call it off. Frank 
made a mistake. You got your machine back, 
and he’ll give you some money—just forget it.” 

I said, “No way.” I said, “He stole my 
machine.” And he was a kind of a friend of 
mine—he was a customer, so I was real nice 
to the guy. And I said, “Well, I thought he was 
a friend of mine—he turned around and stole 
my slot machine.” I said, “No way—I’m gonna 
press the charges as far as I can go. 

Then they’re tellin me, “Well, gee, Bill. 
Let’s—why don’t you let it go.” 

I said, “No way.” I said, “I’m mad! I’m 
gonna get him.” 

So then Jack Sullivan called me up. And 
Jack Sullivan never called anybody up. 

And I answered the phone in the Bingo parlor. 
And it was either before we opened or after 
we closed. [Deep voice] “Hello. Bill Harrah?” 


“This is Jack Sullivan.” 

“Oooh. Yes, Mr. Sullivan.” 

He said, “Could I see ya for a minute?” 

And I said, “Oh, yes, sir. I’ll come right 

And he said, “No, that won’t be necessary.” 
He said, “I’ll come and see you.” And 
he said, “You’re over there,” da da da. He 
described where it was. 

And I said, “Yah, yah. Right across from 
so-and-so,” da da da. I told somebody—I said, 
“Jack Sullivan is cornin’ over to see me. Wow!” 

So he came over—I remember he had a 
cane. And we had some steps, and he had a 
little—he was kinda heavy. But I was really 
impressed. It would be like President Carter 
or somebody cornin’ to see you. It was—you 
know—’’Jack Sullivan cornin’ to see me! 

So he came in; I took him in the office 
and sat down. I said, “Oh, yes, Mr. Sullivan, 

And he laughed—he turned on all of 
his personality. He didn’t have too much, 
but he turned on all he had. He’s grinnin’ 
and laughin’, you know. He said, “Well, Bill,” 
he said, “you’re doin’ pretty good here. We 
wondered how you were gonna do when 
you opened, but you’re doin’ fine. We’re glad 
to have you here. You’re a good guy. You get 
around. I know you come over to our place, 
and you’re not the biggest gambler we have, 
but you spend a dollar or two, and we like 

Gambling in Reno, 1937-1946 


you very much. You’re a good citizen....” On 
and on and on, and that’s just fine. “We like 
to have young guys like you, and that’s good. 
Oh-” blah blah blah. 

Finally he said, “Now about this Sheely 
thing.” (This is about a week before the trial.) 
He said, “Now Frank is a—” he said, “he’s an 
impulsive guy, you know.” He said, “Frank’s 
really a pretty good guy. But,” he said, “once in 
a while he’ll get kinda drunk, and he’ll do the 
damnedest things. And,” he said, “I just want 
to hit him in the nose when he does that. But 
Frank’s really a good guy.” And he said, “He 
got your slot machine—there’s no question 
about that— but he didn’t really—. It was just 
kind of a prank like some kids play, and, you 
know.” And he said, “Really why don’t we just 
forget this, Bill.” He said, “It was really—.” 

And I really stood up to him—I was 
amazed at myself, said, “That is—I respect you 
very much, Mr. Sullivan; that is not true!” I 
said, “Sheely wasn’t drunk, and he wasn’t— big 
thing.” I said, “He’s the biggest crook in town, 
and you know it. And this slot machine was 
just another caper that he’s pulled.” I said, “No 
way!” I said, “He deliberately, soberly stole my 
slot machine and a lot of booze. And,” I said, 
“I’m gonna get him!” I said, “I would really 
love to do anything I could for you. Ask me 
anything else to do, and I’ll do it. But,” I said, 
“I’m not gonna—.” 

And I guess I was so impressive that he 
said, “Well, okay, Bill.” He said, “I respect your 
thinkin’. But,” he said, “I think, if you want to 
get along in Reno,” he said, “I think you’re 
makin’ a mistake.” He said, “Here we scratch 
each other’s back,” and da da da da da, you 
know. That was it. 

And Frank did—they had a trial, and I 
testified against him, and he went to prison. 
And I guess some people thought he might 
get even with me, and I should have worried 
about it maybe, but I never did. But he was 

kind of a blowhard. And then later, he got 
killed in Vegas in a bar room brawl. And just 
a few years later people said, “Oh, I wonder 
how come he got killed.” 

And I said, “Well, he probably stole 
somethin’ [laughs] from somebody.” 

That really took a lot of courage to stand up to 
that crowd. 

Well, it was just absolutely the right 
thing—and I said, “Oh brother.” It was the 
question, “Are you gonna be a good guy or 
a bad guy?” It was—you know—really the 
principles were involved—not that I’ve—but 
I was brought up a certain way, and just—to 
rue it was just no question what you did. You 
know, somebody stole somethin’, you yelled 
copper and you put ’em in jail. And you put 
’em in as hard as you could. That was it. 

The stealing of the dollar slot machine was 
the only time anything like that happened. 
That was the only one. Prior to that, I’d been 
just kind of a nothin’ as far as the crossroaders 
were concerned. But then after that episode, 
why I was anti-crossroader, which was 
supposed to intimidate me. But most of those 
fellas are a lot of talk and not much action. 
But there are some real tough ones—or there 
were some real tough ones, but I just went 
about my business. And I didn’t have any 
security or anything; it wasn’t even thought of 
in those days. And I just went where I wanted 
to go and didn’t worry about it, and nobody 
ever bothered me. But there were stories. 
And Cliff Judd—the Galloper—I don’t know 
if anyone heard of him. He was one of the 
top crossroaders all over the West. And he 
got involved in several things, and I was on 
the other side. And the Galloper was gonna 
do this and that, but he never did. In fact, 
he showed up in Stanley a couple of times; 
and he wasn’t necessarily after me. But some 


William F. Harrah 

fellas up there—that were also crossroaders 
[chuckling] — had a place there, and he was 
a friend of one of the sons. They were really 
terrible—those guys. 

But I’ll stay on Reno, I guess. 

How about some of the other people who were 
important around here. 

Well, when we go into Graham and McKay, 
then I’ll go into Justi. Justi was I think the bar 
manager at the (oh, I’ll go into him first) at 
the Bank Club, but he was really their city 
councilman. And Justi was very independent 
or pretended to be, and he would usually go 
along with what the Bank Club crowd wanted, 
but not a hundred percent. He maintained 
a little—. And I thought sometimes he just 
voted a different way just to show that he was 
independent. But I also think it would be safe 
to say that when he went against the Bank Club, 
it was on a minor thing. I don’t think he ever 
went against ’em on anything major. But he was 
a good councilman. He was all right. 

Bill Graham was a real gregarious fella, and 
he and I got along real good—always. And he 
was a good sport, you know—well, he really 
spent too much money. If you remember, if you 
knew him, you know, he’d go around and buy 
drinks everywhere, which of course, I did that, 
but not on the scale he did. But also he’d give 
money to everybody, which I never— I thought 
a long time ago that was kinda dumb. But he 
would come out of the Bank Club or somethin’; 
and all these bums, you know—’’Gimme a five, 
Bill.” “Gimme ten” or “Loan me.” And he’d just 
hand it out, just forever. 

And then McKay was the quiet one— 
Jim. They were both crooks, but they weren’t 
crooks in their casino. And McKay— I liked 
him very much. I got to know him, and he 
had a wife that he married—a young gal. It 
didn’t last very long, Cora Sue or something. 

But I remember when he was goin’ with 
her—and I was goin’ along for some reason. 
And we would double-date a lot, and I don’t 
know—maybe my girlfriend—her friends 
or something; but I went out a lot with Jim 

Jack Sullivan I just saw around the bars. 
He would buy everybody a drink all the time. 
He never drank very much, but he would be 
in other bars like the old—what was Johnny 
Petrinovich’s—oh, the Grand—Grand bar. Bill 
Graham was in there just all day long. And 
the Bank Club would have a problem; they’d 
come out of the Bank Club and go over to the 
Grand bar and ask Bill about it. 

But Bill finally ran out of money, I 
remember. I remember he wanted to see me 
one time, and it was, “Why does he want 
to see me for?” And he was really spendin’ 
money in our place, just—. He was gamblin’ 
a little bit and runnin’ up bars, you know, 
thousands of dollars a day. This went on for 
months. We thought, “How can he do it?” 
And then it went into years, you know. And 
then he’d get behind—he had some money 
cornin’. See, they’d sold out to some other— 
but he had money cornin’. Then he’d go to our 
management and say well, his money’d be in 
at so-and-so. Then he came to me one time. 
And it was financial. I know we handled it all 
right, but it just surprised me that Bill Graham 
of all people would need to even talk money. 
But he was havin’ problems. 

Then McKay, he handled his money good, 
‘cept he married that real young girl, which 
I shouldn’t talk about that. I think they had 
a baby or adopted one or something. Her 
name was Carol Lou or something [Cora Sue 

But he was always real classy. He’d keep 
cornin’ to bar, and he would—like he’d be with 
her, and they’d be coming in for dinner—they 
didn’t hang around the bars. And instead of 

Gambling in Reno, 1937-1946 


“Hey, have a drink!”—he would, you know, 
“Hello, Mr. Harrah.” And hed go sit at his table 
or something; then someone would say—lean 
over the bar and [softly], “Mr. McKay would 
like you to have a drink”—you know—real 
smooth. He was okay. I really liked ’em both. 

But Justi, I didn’t know him—I knew him 
well enough, you know; but I never got very 
close to him. I described him pretty good, I 
think. He was the leading councilman. I knew 
all the mayors just—not friendly—just “Hello, 
Mr. Mayor” sort of thing. 

And the old Golden Hotel—George 
Wingfield—I didn’t know him except to 
say hello to. But I’m very familiar with the 
Golden; I stayed there—the first place I stayed 
in Reno. And then a couple of times when I 
was kicked out of the house, or maybe I was 
moved out of a place and hadn’t got my new 
apartment yet. I would—so I stayed at the 
Golden many times. I stayed at the Riverside 
a lot, too. In fact, I lived at the Riverside for— 
oh, when? That’s movin’ up a little. Yeah, that’s 
the next—that’s the forties. We’re still in the 

And there was the Town House. Do 
you remember the Town House? [George] 
Frenchy Perry and Jack Blackman were the 
owners. Jack’s the one that shot the guy in 
the Bank Club later. Fact, he’s still down in 
Texas—I hear from him—no, he died. He 
died recently. But Mary Blackman—she was a 
cigarette girl there. And she and Jack—I don’t 
know if they were married then, but they got 
married—and they were still together. And 
they kinda kept in touch with me. Whenever 
they’d come to town, they’d call me up. I 
didn’t want to get too close to them because 
he was—I never liked Jack too much. He was 
a cheater from way back. Plus he had got in 
this fight, and I think he was half right, but he 
did kill the guy. And I liked Frenchy cept he’s 
such a dirty talker, but he was a real funny guy. 

And I used to hang around there quite a bit at 
night ’cause they had orchestra. I remember 
they had what’s his name?—who later became 
the Sparks councilman or mayor? lie was in 
the legislature or railroad—Chet Christensen. 

He used to sing “Mother Machree” over 
there, I remember. I would—yeah, he would 
sing it at my request, and I’d always tip him. 
It was the only place in town that had any 
music, and it was pretty good—not that I was 
a dancer, but I loved to listen. 

But I’ll never forget—I was there one 
time, and this Johnny O’Hara—. First time 
I came it was Johnny and Kay O’Hara—only 
they weren’t married yet—and I was with my 
first wife. But they came back later after I was 
established, and they came up one time—or 
a lot—we were close friends. And so Kay and 
Johnny come in, and Johnny’s like I said—fell 
into these games. So “Where’ll we go and 
what do we do?” and this and that, and they 
wanted a nice dinner. And I said, “Okay. The 
best steak in town is the Town House.” And 
I said, “The owners are friends of mine, or 
kinda.” I said, “I get along fine. But,” I said, 
“the gambling is crooked as hell.” So I said, 
“Just don’t play. Buy a lot of drinks, and I’ll 
introduce you to everybody, and dance if you 
want, and we’ll have the best steak you ever 
had. Enjoy!”—you know. 

Okay. We went over. So we had a few 
drinks before. So we got in there, and 
we’re at the bar, and everybody’s real nice 
and buyin’ drinks. And so Johnny turned 
around, and he saw the Crap table. So he 
got his money out, and he started over to the 
Crap table. He got over there before Kay saw 
him. And she was kind of a wonderful gal, 
but she’d get a few drinks and she’d get a little 
loud—not, you know—but you could hear 
her. So she turned, and she said, “Johnny! 
Get away from that Crap table! Don’t you 
remember Bill told us not to play in here!” 


William F. Harrah 

[Laughs] So every head in the Town House 
looked at me! 

And I remember Frenchy looked at me, 
and I said [head down, waves], “Hi, Frenchy” 

So then it really worried me a little. 
Frenchy could kinda take a joke, but, he took 
his business seriously So then the first chance, 
we went in to have dinner out, and I got ahold 
of Frenchy, you know, and I said, “I couldn’t 
be sorrier.” I said, “I did tell him. Naturally he’s 
a friend of mine; he’s goin’ to school.” I said, 
“I don’t mind bring-in a guy that’s got some 
money—you know—let you make a couple of 
bucks. But,” I said, “Johnny’s like this [up to 
nose]. He’s goin’ to medical school. And then,” 
I said, “I’m gonna have to pay for halt of his 
trip. I couldn’t.” And I said, “The dumbbell—I 
just said it. And I didn’t say it was crooked. 
I just said maybe he might have better luck 
somewhere else. But,” I said, “I’m awful sorry, 
Frenchy.” Boy! 

But Kay, until she died, I used to throw 
that at her. I said, “Boy, you almost got me 
killed one night!” [Laughing) 

That was a fun place, that little Town 
House. I liked that very much. And old Chet 
Christensen—we still talk about it whenever 
I see him. And he’ll mention this today— 
’’Remember ‘Mother Machree’?” He had a 
beautiful voice. 

I wasn’t too close to any of the city 
officials. It was just in the way of—when 
it was necessary. If I had business with the 
sheriff, I went to see the sheriff. If it was the 
mayor, why—but I didn’t socialize with ’em or 
anything. But I remember most of ’em. And 
like Ray Root was the sheriff for years. And I 
just knew him to say hello, but as I remember, 
he was an excellent sheriff. And then when he 
retired, I think Bud Young came along and 
was sheriff for years, which—I’ll talk about 
Bud later. 

Memory Sketches of Some Early-Day 

Yeah, Fred Brady was a Bingo man, and 
I met him in Venice. He was working down 
there when we first opened. He was working 
for the Japs, as we called ’em. Frank Furuta 
owned most of the Bingo or Tango—Japanese 
Tango parlors down there. Fred worked there 
and was very good. 

He opened a place near us of his own, a 
two-for-a-nickel Bingo, which maybe’s where 
I got the idea for a two-for-a-nickel Bingo. 
And he worked, he was a good competitor. He 
worked real hard and made a success out of it. 
But then it, like all the Bingos down there, it 
went out when everything else went out. But 
at that time I got acquainted with him. 

Later he was in Reno; I didn’t bring him to 
Reno. I forget where he worked here, but then 
he started working for us. And he was a super 
Bingo man, as good as any ever. But he had 
a drinking problem, which some people can 
do. He got along for years with his drinking 
problem and still did a super job. But then 
occasionally, there’d be trouble of some kind, 
So we worked with him; we never fired him. 
Then he went on the wagon, finally. 

We’d opened in Vancouver, Washington; 
Bingos were legalized there for a short time. 
And I’d sent up a manager that worked for 
me in Venice and had worked here, who had 
had problems; and I was just a young guy 
then and was learning [chuckles] about life, 
I guess. I was gonna reform this fella, and he 
was on drugs, I think, plus liquor. I liked his 
wife very much, and I liked him. I sent him 
to Vancouver, Washington to run the place. 
I had two partners up there, and I wanted 
to do a good job. I wanted to do a good job 
just because I liked to do a good job, but also 
because of my partners, I wanted to do an 
extra good job. And he didn’t do it, which 

Gambling in Reno, 1937-1946 


is—no use going into; he just failed. And 
after repeated tries and repeated trips up 
there, then I sent Fred up, and Fred did very 
well. Maybe six months, we ran with Fred in 
charge; we did very well. And maybe once 
or twice were a couple of problems, but not 
worth talkin’ about. 

Then after that, Fred came back to Reno 
and worked with us some time, then he went 
to Lake Tahoe and ran the Bingo up there till 
he retired about, oh, five years ago. He’s still 
around; and I see him occasionally. 

I have a funny one to tell on Fred. He 
was, as I said, quite a boozer. And he was a 
Catholic—supposed to be a good one, but he 
really wasn’t. And he had a brother that was 
a priest, and his brother came to visit him. 
Fred was the type of fella who always lived in 
a hotel. So he lived in one of the hotels around 
here, and his brother came. 

So it was Sunday morning, and the 
brother wanted to go to church, of course. 
He assumed Fred was going, and Fred caught 
on right away, but he didn’t know where the 
Catholic church was! So [laughing]—so he 
grabbed—he always rode in cabs—so he 
grabbed a cab, and he and his brother got in. 
Cab driver said, “Where?” 

And Fred said, “The Catholic church.” 

And the cab driver said, “Which one?” 

And Fred was a quick thinker, and he said, 
“The big one!” [Laughs] So he was saved— 
according to his story—although r met his 
brother, and he-wasn’t any dummy. I think 
he caught on. 

And Bob Ring—. Should’ve started with 
him because he came along in Venice. The 
funny thing about Bob, we opened the Circle 
Game and got straightened out; and all my 
school chums didn’t work out, and I started 
hiring some Venice kids. And there was a 
Charlie Capp worked there, who was quite 
good; and of all the people we tried, he was 

the best. So Charlie was kind of a Number 
Two man besides me. And I think Charlie 
and I ran it just about, for a few days there 
or a few weeks or even months, with a little 
occasional help. Then things picked up, and 
so I asked Charlie if he knew anyone else that 
could work that was good. And he said, yes, 
he knew a fella in Santa Monica, Bob Ring, 
that he knew very well was a good, honest kid, 

So I said, “Bring him around.” So he 
brought Bob around. And “Hello.” 

“Hello.” And so in those days it was no big 
thing; you just went to work. So we put Bob 
to work, and he worked a couple of days and 
worked real hard, very quiet. 

And so Charlie asked me after about the 
second day—he said, “What do you think of 
Bob Ring?” 

And I said, “Well, he’s okay. Except,” I 
said, “he never says anything. He’s a real quiet 

And Charlie said, “Well, he’s not that way 
at all. He’s really very outgoing,” or whatever 
(that isn’t how Charlie talked, but—). He said, 
“Give him a chance. He’ll loosen up, and he’ll 
be fine.” 

So I forget how we got the message to 
Bob—I think I talked to him, or Charlie 
talked to him. “You’re doin’ okay, but loosen 
up,” which Bob did. He became himself, 
and—which he has a wonderful personality, 
and the little old ladies, which were playin’ in 
those days just like they do today, just loved 
Bob Ring. He’d kid ’em and remembered 
everything about ’em and remembered their 
grandchildren’s name and what kind of 
cigarettes they smoked, and he kidded ’em, 
which surprised me—I learned a lot. I never 
got that far ’cause I don’t have that kind of a 
personality. But he would say things to the 
little old ladies that were almost shocking 
sometimes— not dirty, but just—you know— 


William F. Harrah 

’’And your hat’s on crooked,” or somethin’ you 
know. But he said it in such a way that they 
just loved it, so—. Fact, you could almost 
tell—well, you can today in a Bingo parlor, 
which that was very similar to. It was like 
we had two stations; there were fifteen stools 
exactly, on each station. And Bob Ring would 
work one station, and say, Charlie Capp would 
work the other, and I was runnin’ the game. 
And if the place wasn’t full, Bob Ring would 
have fourteen players, and maybe Charlie’d 
have six or eight, cause they just loved Bob. 

Then Bob was—his father died when he 
was very young. He lived with his mother 
and his brother Harry, an older brother. And 
so we went from one game in Venice to two 
games, to three games. And Bob came right 
along, and within a short time he was in part 
charge of all three games and worked very 
well. It was all new to him, but to me, too. It 
was just trial and error and common sense 
that made it go pretty good. 

I’ll never forget one time Bob’s brother 
came to work— Harry. And Harry was older 
than Bob, but Bob was the boss; and Harry—I 
thought, “Gee, is that gonna work?” but it 
did; Harry was pretty good. But I’ll never 
forget—and they both lived at home. The 
mother was a widow, and the money meant 
quite a bit. And I remember one time we had 
drinking problems with some of the fellas, 
not that they were drunks, but drinking when 
they were working. So we had a strict rule—if 
you drank on the job, you didn’t get fired but 
you got bawled out and maybe laid off for a 
few days. So Bob Ring, the boss, caught his 
brother, Harry Ring, drinking on the job. So 
he bawled him out and laid him of f for a 
week, I think, which was the right thing to 
do without any question. But then when Bob 
went home, and his mother—and Harry went 
home first (he’d been laid off), and then Bob 
went home to dinner or somethin’— and his 

mother, I guess, lit into him as much as she 
ever did (she was really a nice lady) about 
layin’ off his own brother, they needed the 
money and da da da. Bob did the right thing. 
So the games in Venice, I think I mentioned, 
were off and on, and off and on. 

When we opened in Reno, it was really a 
branch—a small branch—of our operation 
in Venice. So Bob was the most valuable man 
I had, but I didn’t want to spare him down 
there, so I sent another fellow up to run Reno. 
And he didn’t work out too well, and I was 
here an awful lot. The fella wasn’t stealing or 
anything, but he really wasn’t paying as much 
attention to business as I liked. And when we 
got where it looked like it would be successful, 
and that things in Venice weren’t too bad, 
then I asked Bob to move up here. That was 
a big move for him, born and raised in Santa 
Monica and his mother down there and all. 
And he thought about it, but not too long, 
and he came on up and [chuckles] —been here 
ever since. 

He took over when he got here and did 
an admirable job right from Day One, as far 
as managing the place. Bob and I worked 
together, I’d say just about perfectly, all those 
years. And we worked, you know, almost as 
partners. We just conferred, and, “What do 
we do next, what do we do next?” 

And another example I’ll give on Bob, 
right straight down the line, we had another 
fellow we brought up from Venice named 
Bill Goupil, who worked for us quite awhile, 
and he’s retired now. He left us and worked 
for Harvey’s for a few years. He now lives in 
Carson. I see him occasionally. And we’re 
good friends. Bill Goupil. He and Bob were 
very close; in fact, they were roommates. 
I think they had a room over the Palace 
Club. And Bill Goupil got to playin’ around 
and drinkin’, so Bob laid him of f. And I 
remember it was kinda tough, then; I think 

Gambling in Reno, 1937-1946 


everybody got five dollars a day And it was 
similar problem, only no mother involved. 
But Goupil owed half the rent, and Goupil 
liked to spend his money anyway; so Bob was 
stuck with all the rent, I remember. But it was 
the right thing to do, and he did it. 

So then Bob met a girl here—Lucille—and 
they were married—still married, apparently 
very happily. And they had one son. Bob’s 
been extremely loyal. 

When we got bigger and bigger and got 
more—what’s the word? When we got real big, 
it was—. Bob has been my right-hand man 
all along and did anything—I was president, 
and he was president. But it got really beyond 
him—his capabilities of the president’s job, 
which he knew except that—, So then we had 
another president— [Maurice] Sheppard— 
who was a big turnaround, which I’ll go into 
later—and then later Lloyd Dyer, and Bob 
Ring just couldn’t—with his background and 
all— couldn’t do what they did. And I couldn’t 
either. We don’t have their backgrounds or 
their capabilities. Bob has always been a super 
guy, wonderful personality, and extremely 
well liked by everybody, and still is. He’s 
now—I’m chairman of the Board, and he’s 
Vice chairman, and his duties are just about 
what he wants to do. 

He started the golf tournaments for us 
years ago, I think twenty-some years ago. 
He was quite a golfer; he still plays, I think. 
And our golf tournaments became super 
tournaments—very popular. We still have 
them, not quite as big as we did. But Bob 
got into that, which worked out pretty good 
’cause as he retired from other things, he got 
in the golfing bigger, plus other things. So he’s 
as active as he wants to be, I believe. And he 
works just about every day, but he does what 
he wants to do, which is the way it ought to be. 

There’s another one I should mention—is 
Billy Jackson, as he was in the early days. He 

worked in Venice. He was what—a chip game 
dealer or operator, which was Roulette games 
they played at the beach, which they had an 
electrical wheel on the wall, but it was just 
like Roulette and very popular when it could 
operate. And Bill either was a chip game in 
our building, and it was—a lessee had it—and 
that’s where I first met Bill; he worked in there. 
And he has a wonderful personality. And he’s 
crippled, but he doesn’t let it bother him; he 
has kind of a cleft foot, but he moves fine. 

So Billy, I knew him down there, and then 
the chip games closed. And either he came to 
work for us down there, or—I’m not sure—in 
the Bingo. Then when we opened on Center 
Street, Billy was the boss. (That’s before we 
opened over here where I brought someone 
else.) So I think Billy had been working up 
here and was out of work or something. So 
he was the boss. And the place was a failure, 
which I went into that, didn’t I? 

But Billy was not the easiest person to 
work with. He had his ideas, which I think in 
that first case he was probably right ’cause I 
wanted to do it Venice way, and he—”No, no, 
you should do it Reno way.” So we got along, 
but it just wasn’t perfect. 

So then we closed. So then when we 
reopened, Billy was still around, but I wasn’t 
too anxious to get him. You know, I didn’t 
hate him or anything, but he just—. So that’s 
why I brought another man up by name Tom 
Gidney to run the place. And Tom didn’t work 

But then later—not too much later—Billy 
came back to work, and he worked okay. But 
Billy was a little strong, and you had to learn 
him, and he liked to kinda run it if you let him. 
But once you got the message to him that that 
was his job and to stay in his slot, he worked 
out fine. So he worked for us for years, and 
he—we had a retirement of sixty-five, but we 
intelligently allow exceptions in there. And 


William F. Harrah 

Billy at sixty-five, he was like most men of fifty 
So he kept on working and I think till he was 
seventy-five or seventy-seven or something. 

And then we started retiring—got a lot 
more serious. We had quite a few over sixty- 
five, and it was time to really start getting 
serious. And Billy was still doing a good job, 
but it just—politically, or whatever you want 
to say, to get rid of a lot of people—it was 
really time to get rid of Billy also, which he 
really didn’t want to leave, but he was very 
graceful about it. I think I asked Bob Ring 
recently about Billy for some reason. And he 
said, “Oh yeah, he’s working at the Onslow,” 
[chuckles] “and doin’ a fine job.” He’s a pit 
boss at the Onslow, and he’s gotta be eighty 
years old. And I betcha, in case you’d want to 
walk by there and take a look at him, I bet he 
doesn’t look over sixty. And, well, when I met 
him, his father looked just like him, except for 
the foot, just like him. And I think his father’s 
probably still—and his grandfather and his 
great grandfather were alive. And the last I 
heard, I think his great grandfather died at a 
hundred or somethin’, and his grand—just one 
of those families that go on and on and on; 
they all look alike. Oh, I guess that’s enough 
of that. 

One of the things that we didn’t talk about 
in this early period was your use of the Wine 
House as kind of a bank. 

[Chuckles] Well, we were next to the 
Wine House, and we discovered instantly 
where it was, and the food was so great. And 
the Frankoviches were so great; it was just 
a wonderful place—busy and friendly and 
everything. And they had a safe there with 
compartments in it, and you could rent them. 
And I don’t remember (that was Bob Ring’s 
department) whether we rented one or just 
left our bankroll with the bartender, which 

wouldn’t surprise me. But that was our office. 
See, we—our Bingo was no—wasn’t even a 
building there. That was just a ceiling between 
two walls; we had a twenty-five-foot room on a 
twenty-five-foot lot, which was really fun. But 
the Wine House next door—and you wanted 
a sandwich, you wanted a beer, you wanted 
whatever—there it was. It was wonderful. Boy, 
we loved the Wine House—and right next 
door. That was really a landmark, wasn’t it? 

Did I mention earlier about the bar down 
here—the Alpine Club?—on Center Street. 
That was next to our first place. And I can’t 
remember the man that ran it—a real nice 
fella. That was a bar and restaurant. And we 
hung around there ’cause it was next door, 
and I think we left our bankroll there. We 
were good customers. I think it was Eddie 
[Maier]—Bob Ring could tell you his name, 
I’m sure—owned it. I can just see him—big, 
kinda short, and kinda chubby, and a big grin 
on his face—wonderful food. But Eddie was 
the bar man. 

You know, it was very tough at first. And 
who was it? No, Bob Ring wasn’t over there; it 
was one of the other managers. We’d get down 
where our bankroll was down to nothin’, and 
they would borrow from Eddie, a hundred or 
two hundred to keep goin which—in fact, I 
didn’t know at the time they borrowed it. Even 
when I found out about it, I was pleased, you 
know, ’cause I wouldn’t’ve even thought about 
askin’ him, but we were good customers. And 
lookin’ at it from his point, we were the, you 
know—the place’d close, and here comes the 
whole gang drinkin’ and—so we were good 
customers. But a hundred, you know, was a 
lot of money. And of course, we always paid 
him back. 

That’s really a remarkable arrangement for 
financing in those early days, you know, to leave 
your bankroll with the bartender. 

Gambling in Reno, 1937-1946 


Yeah. Well, you trusted him, of course. I 
think that hotel’s still there; I don’t know if you 
can see it yet. Yeah, I can see it, but I can’t see 
the name. My door’s right above the place; we 
stayed there. And I think it’s the same hotel 
and the same name today. 

Wartime Interlude and 
the Blackout Bar 

See, business—after the Bingo war was 
over, then as we had the only two-for-a-nickel 
in town, why, we did very well. And then we 
didn’t make millions, but we made money 
every month for several years there and 
got all caught up on our bills and debts and 
everything, and started looking around for 
expansion. And one that came along, first one, 
was the old Block N, I believe it was, which 
was next to the bank on Virginia. And then 
they moved up north, didn’t they? 

Yeah. And a couple of fellas—[Richard] 
“Tricky Dick” Kolbus and Joe—what was his 
last name? Oh, Joe Luke (name was Lukanish, 
but he abbreviated it to Luke). They took it 
over. “Tricky Dick” was a football star, and 
Joe was kind of a promoter type. And they 
had it in there, and they opened a casino with 
everything. But they were overextended and 
havin’ a tough time, which I realized ’cause I 
used to hang around there. So I leased half of 
their store that they weren’t usin’ much. And 
they needed the money. So I leased halt of it, 
and to protect myself, I got an option with 
the landlord, who were the—oh, what’s their 
name?—real good friends—. We got along 
fine—Joe and Victor [Saturno] and I. And I 
went to them and just told ’em the truth, that 
I was gonna lease this place; and I wasn’t too 
sure how the—. They weren’t too happy with 
Joe Lukanish, anyway, for some reason. And 
I said I wanted to put a Bingo in there, and I 
wanted to be protected in case the operators 

in there defaulted that I could take over the 
lease. And they said, “Fine,” and they just 
gave me a letter or something to that effect. 
And then Joe and “Tricky Dick” did default. 
And so I took it over and got the lease. Then 
I let it sit there for quite a while, ’cause it was 
wartime or soon became wartime—I just paid 
the rent on it. [I] left it vacant there or put 
little things in from time to time but short 
term. And then I worked out a good lease 
with the Saturnos. And they were so easy to 
work with; you just said it the way it was, and 
they went right along. Anything you wanted 
to do—remodel—fine, you know. They were 
wonderful guys. 

Then after the war or well, the war was 
on—we made plans to put a casino in there. 
And then you couldn’t do much; we could do 
a little but not very much. But we could do a 
lot of planning. And then as soon as the war 
was over, then we immediately started to put 
in the casino. 

So we started right away, and we opened the 
following June—’46,1 believe—with a casino. 

Then staying on the Saturnos with this 
casino (which I’ll talk about a little later), 
I went to ’em—they had plenty of money. 
Their father’d owned a lot of property, and 
they always had plenty of money. But I went 
to them and just asked them about selling 
the building, and I thought they’d laugh at 
me or something. And they said, no, they’d 
think about it. And we talked numbers, and 
we didn’t take too long to arrive at a number, 
and they said, yeah, they’d sell it, which really 
surprised me. And it was on my terms—which 
I had some money then. But they were very— 
whatever I wanted to do was fine. And then 
they took quite a bit of the money—not all of 
it but some of it—and you probably read in 
the paper about it. 

They went back to the little country where 
they came from, and they gave two thousand 


William F. Harrah 

dollars or something to every member of the 
little community. That was within the last 
ten years. And Joe died. Victor’s still alive, 
and I run into him on the street, send him a 
Christmas card, and he—I wish I had it—well, 
I have it somewhere. For his Christmas card 
this year, he wrote on it: “Merry Christmas, 
Bill and your wife” (he’s met her) . And he 
said, “You have done a great deal” or “an awful 
lot” or however he said it “to improve Reno. 
Keep up the good work” da da da—real, real 

Anyway, we opened the casino, and we 
had all kinds of problems ’cause that wasn’t 
our business. We’d had a little small casino 
in the Blackout, which—did I mention that? 
Well, I better intersperse that. 

[Chuckles] We had the Bingo parlor—the 
first one— and then the successful one. Then 
when the war came along and the Reno Club 
was owned by a Japanese, then they had to 
close immediately because of the war feeling, 
although the operator was American born— 
Freddie Aoyama. 

We made a lease with him. They owned 
the property, and we leased it on ’em—yearly 
basis, I believe—and operated it as a Bingo 
parlor. And we were on both sides of Harolds 
Club at that time. And we had—I know on the 
north one, I remember I asked Pappy Smith 
one time—I said, “What would you think of 
cuttin a door between these two places?” 

And so how he operated—I just caught 
him in the Harolds Club, and he said, “Let’s 
take a look.” And so he went, and we walked 
through Harolds Club, and he said, “Where 
would it go?” 

And I said, “Well, come around.” So 
we went in the Bingo, and I showed him 
where it would be good—for me— where it 
would fit, where it wouldn’t interfere with 
anything— and about a six-foot opening or 
eight feet. 

Then he said, “Fine.” And then when 
we left, he kinda stepped it off to the front 
door; and then he went around to Harolds 
and stepped it out—into Harolds, where he 
hit about where the door would be, and it 
didn’t interfere with him. And he said, “I 
think that’s a good idea. Let’s do it.” And that 
was all we did; we just went, with permission 
from our landlords, of course, and cut the 
door. Which was really good for both of us, 
because the people could run back, and we’re 
noncompetitive—they had no Bingo and a lot 
of slots, and we had Bingo and very few slots; 
and they had a bar, and we didn’t have a bar. 
And so people really circulated. It was very 
good for both of us. 

And then when we got the Reno Club, 
which was the Japanese’s place, I went to 
Smith again. And I said, “Hey, I’m on the other 
side. Let’s cut another door.” 

And he said, “Fine.” And we did the same 
thing and cut another door. 

Then we started serving drinks to our—. 
See, we didn’t have the two-for-a-dime place, 
which was high class—high a class of Bingo 
as you could have; and we had a good one, 
but our competition was the Club Fortune, 
who had a bar. And they served drinks to 
their customers, and we couldn’t do it, and 
it was a business disadvantage. So how could 
we serve— well, we didn’t want to mess 
with a liquor license and all that to start. 
So we talked to Harolds, and we could—we 
did it in the other place—we could go into 
Harolds; we could have a waitress go in and 
go to the bar and buy a drink and take it in 
to give it to our customers, which worked, 
but not very well because like on a busy day, 
and she’s fighting the crowd, and the bar 
was, you know, quite a ways. So it wasn’t 

And then I’d had a bar in Venice. I kinda 
liked the bar business a little bit, I think 

Gambling in Reno, 1937-1946 


probably because I liked to hang around it 
and drink—I don’t know. 

But Murray Jacobs had a clothing store 
there, and he and I were good friends. So I 
talked to him. I think liquor licenses were 
impossible at that time; I think they’d frozen 
the licenses. Or no, they hadn’t, but I really 
didn’t have room in the Reno Club (that was 
the name of it) for a bar, and Murray had this 
building next door to his clothing store, so 
we, meeting and talking, we became pretty 
good friends. And he was tired of the clothing 
business; he’d inherited it from his father 
and been in it forever, and he was ready to 
go to somethin’ else. So we figured out a deal 
where the front part of the store would be 
liquor store, which Murray had, and in the 
rear would be a bar. And there’d be a partition 
so that there was really no connection. But 
we could operate on one license, which was 
important—you saved a little money. 

So we went ahead with that deal. And I put 
the bar in the back, which was the “Blackout,” 
we named it; it was because of the war, and 
it was a real dark bar. Then there was an 
entrance from the alley (let’s see, that’s Lincoln 
Alley, isn’t it?) and also from the Bingo. And 
we served drinks in the Bingo, which was 
the reason or purpose. But then it got to be 
rather popular while we brought in a pianist 
that I had working in Venice. And his name 
was JackMcCarg; he was known as “Jackson.” 
He was very good. And there wasn’t much 
entertainment in Reno at the time. Jackson 
didn’t go to work till about midnight or eleven 
o’clock, so, it kinda became the place to go in 
Reno for quite a while there. 

And I met—surprising—shows you 
how things work out—I met more of Reno’s 
leading citizens in the Blackout than I had in 
all the time I’d been in Reno ’cause I just didn’t, 
you know—I didn’t socialize; and the places I 
hung out, they didn’t hang out. I didn’t belong 

to the Kiwanis, or anything. But I met—gee, 
I just met everybody in the Blackout. 

So that worked pretty good—gave me a 
taste of the bar business. And then we put in 
a “21 ” game just to kinda feel our way and the 
Crap table. And I watched it very closely. We 
had a few slot machines in there, and I did tell 
about gettin robbed. 

But I got a taste of the casino business in 
the Blackout. So then this other came along 
in the other location; and then we had some 
money, and I felt there was room for another 
casino in Reno. So then we opened Harrah’s 
in June of’46— June twentieth, I think it was. 
Bob Ring remembers all those dates exactly. 


From Harrah’s Club to 
Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 

It takes a lot of money to run a casino 
cause you have to have quite a large bankroll, 
and that place cost so much to put in. Then I 
borrowed from everybody that I could. And 
then I opened with a rather short bankroll. 
And then we had some dishonest help. Wayne 
Martin was the manager. 

Well, during the war, I got in with Virgil 
Smith and Bill [Williams]. Virgil Smith and 
Bill and Wayne Martin. Well, see, Virgil Smith 
had Colbrandt’s you remember. [Bill] was a neat 
guy. He’s still livin’ here; he retired way back. 

But anyway, I used to hang around 
Colbrandt’s; I was a friend of theirs. And it was 
a nice place to go, and I had no connection 
with them, and I liked Virgil Smith a lot. And 
we kinda palled around together. And then 
Virgil got drafted and had to go away, and 
then Bill ran the place. And Wayne Martin, 
who also worked there, he ran the “21” game. 
And then he tried to stay out (which is a long 
story); and then he couldn’t pass anything, he 
was so sick [chuckles]. 

But anyway, the three of us were left; I 
was 4-F, so I didn’t have to go. But we got a 

bar—John’s Bar—we rented that, then ran a 
few games in there. And that was a four-way 
partnership; we got Virgil Smith in on it 
because we felt he should have it even though 
he was away, and he was one of us. 

John’s Bar was semi-successful; it made 
money, but you couldn’t help makin money. 
But I learned something real fast. I’d never had 
any partners up till that except my father was 
associated—we weren’t really partners—but 
he got difficult at times. Then when I got on 
my own, I could just make decisions and just 
run along. So with this partnership—. John’s 
Bar was, oh, twenty feet wide. And I’ve always 
thought in terms of expansion, and there was 
a store next door, and they weren’t doin’ very 
good; I forget what business it was. It was 
another twenty feet (or maybe twenty-five 
and twenty-five) and it became available. And 
so if I’d been on my own, I’d’ve just grabbed 
it and torn the wall out and doubled the size 
of my place. But Wayne would go along with 
me pretty well and this Bill [Williams], he 
was real conservative. He was a gambler, but 
he really—a dime was a dime to him. And he 


William F. Harrah 

didn’t know, da da da, and “Should we lease 
it?” And the rent was two hundred or four 
hundred, and “Well, maybe we can get it for 
three-seventy-five,” and all. So it took—we 
could’ve gotten the lease in a day—it took 
two months. And of course, the war’s goin’ 
on; the town’s full of people. And we finally 
got it. So then I wanted to tear the wall 
out. And you couldn’t do anything in those 
days—everything was frozen—but you could 
do things. And the way you did ’em, you just 
went ahead; you hired a contractor you knew 
and made your plans, got all your plumbing, 
your light fixtures, but the big thing was the 
wall. And they could stop you; some kind of 
a board could issue—and they had to come 
from Salt Lake or somethin’. So the trick was 
just to get it done before they knew about it. 
So that’s what I wanted to do. And I’d done 
other jobs like that, and everybody in town 
had done that. You just did it, and the next 
day it was done; and they—”Hey, what’s going 

o » 


“Well, it’s done, and so forget it.” 

So Bill—no, no, he didn’t want to do it that 
way And he wanted to go to the city I said, 
“It’s not gonna work, Bill.” 

But we got a contract, and we got—and 
you couldn’t get bids, even if you wanted to 
get bids. And I said, “This is wartime. You 
just—you do it.” So we got a contractor, and 
then the contractor had to go to the city hall 
to get a building permit. And I said, “You get 
a building permit, you’re going to tip your 

And he said, “Oh no. I don’t want to get 
in trouble.” 

So we got a building permit, and 
automatically we got a stay from the 
government that—”Do not tear that wall 
out. Do not do anything.” And once you got 
one of those, you were dead, ’cause if you did, 
then you were in violation of a whole bunch of 

serious stuff. So we sat there for the duration 
of the war with this vacant room next door, 
when we could’ve had it full of slot machines 
and “21” tables and all sorts of stuff. 

Anyway, I learned real fast. I said, “Boy, I 
sure don’t want any partners unless I have to.” 
And you know, there’s a little good in nearly 
everything, and that was the good that I got 
out of that because if it’d been a real happy 
partnership, I might’ve cut them in on the 
casino when I opened it because I needed 
money. But because of that experience, I had 
no partner. And I borrowed money from 
people and everything, but I just paid ’em, 
and I paid ’em real good and you know— big 
interest, and maybe extra. But no partners. 

But anyway, Wayne and I became friends, 
and he helped me. As he wasn’t in the army, 
he helped me plan the casino. And he became 
the Number One guy in the casino because 
he understood gambling. And we planned 
it, and it was a real beautiful place. It was far 
superior to anything that had been done up 
till then. But operating all the games, instead 
of one or two games, we had, you know, two 
or three Craps and six or seven “21s” and a 
Roulette and a horse book and things. And 
we couldn’t watch it all. I didn’t know how to 
watch, anyway, ’cause it wasn’t my field. And 
Wayne could work twelve hours a day. He 
couldn’t be everywhere, so we did get cheated. 
It was from the inside and the outside. We 
had many crossroaders coming in, and we 
could handle those pretty good, although we 
got cheated a few times. But then also, we 
had some crooked dealers that were goin, so 
it was really very tough. And at times there, I 
wondered if we were going to make it, actually. 

Eddie Sahati came in—we had a Faro 
Bank—and won forty thousand dollars one 
time. And I don’t think our bankroll was a 
hundred; and when somebody took forty, why 
it was pretty scary. 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


Then we finally got it straightened out. 
And just by firing him [points] and firing 
him and—like people say you know—like 
I’ll show people through the casino at Tahoe 
or something on the Fourth of July when it’s 
just huge and thousands of people, and “Well, 
how can you handle all this? How can you 
keep from getting robbed blind?” 

And the answer is, no way you could do it. 
You just couldn’t open it up and hire a bunch 
of people and not get robbed blind. But over 
the years you have a Wayne Martin, and you 
have a Bob Ring, and you have a Lloyd Dyer 
and all, so pretty soon everybody’s honest 
but two or three people. Well, then it’s pretty 
simple. But to start out with all new people, 
then it’s pretty difficult. 

But then did I tell you about Dr. Cantlon 
and going to Stanley and everything? 

Well, that’s a cute story. We finally opened 
in June, and it was really touch and go through 
July. And then it got straightened out, and 
Wayne Martin was there, and my father was 
here—he was a good watcher—and so we 
were making money. There was no question 
that the place was going to be a success. But 
in the meantime, I drank a lot anyway. And 
then because of the stress of opening, I drank 
more than normal. Then no rest. And I got 
where I actually had the shakes; I was like that 
[trembles hand]. And I was—how old was 
I—’46,1 was thirty-five. So I knew there was 
something wrong, and you know, you don’t 
like to admit it. But I went—and Dr. Vernon 
Cantlon was my doctor, because he’s the one 
that set my neck after the accident, which—I 
went into that, didn’t I? 


Oh [laughs]. Okay, I’ll go back to it. But 
he had become my doctor. So I went to him 
(and we were “Bill” and “Vernon”) , and he 

said, “What do you want?”—you know, ’cause 
I was young—I wasn’t sick or anything. 

And I said, “Look at me!” [trembles hand]. 
And I said, “What can you do?” You know, it 
was embarrassing—around people my hands 
were shaking. 

And he said, “Oh, I can fix that.” 

I said, “Give me a pill. Fix that.” 

And he said, “No, I can fix it, but I won’t 
give you a pill.” 

And I said, “Well, that’s good.” 

And he said, “Will you do what I say?” 

And I said, “Yes.” 

He said, “Now, wait a minute.” He said, “I 
want to get it straight.” He said, “I can fix that, 
but you have to do as I say.” 

And I said, “I’ll do it, I’ll do it!” 

And he said, “Okay. That’s a promise?” 

“Yeah, that’s a promise.” 

He said, “Go fishin?’ 

And I—’’That’s the most ridiculous thing 
I ever heard! I’m a busy—” da da da, just a da 
da da da, da da da da da— “fishin’—that’s the 
dumbest thing—.” 

He said, “You said you’d do it, didn’t you?” 

And I said, “Yeah, I did.” You know, I 
respected him, so I thought, “Well, I got to go 
fishin?’ And things were in pretty good shape. 
So I bought a trailer. Well, I always loved cars, 
and I had this nice Packard 12 convertible. 
I found a real neat two-wheel trailer that I 
bought. It was used, but it was a super trailer. 
And I hooked onto the back of the Packard 
and took my girlfriend, and we just took off. I 
didn’t know where I was going. And [I] drove 
east, and then when I got to Elko, I went north 
to Idaho. And I got to Twin Falls, and there 
was a fellow there, neon sign man, Mel—. 
We bought neon signs from him. He started 
in Twin Falls, and he was quite a hustler, 
except he was a boozer. And he expanded; he 
was very successful. And he sold neon signs 
pretty cheap. There was one other company 


William F. Harrah 

that were real expensive, and he sold ’em for 
a fourth of the other people, and, as we were 
on a shoestring, why, we started dealing with 
him. So he built all the signs for us, and they 
weren’t the best, but they were sure, you know, 
affordable. So we became real good friends. 
He would work with you, and, “We gotta have 
it day after tomorrow,” and he would do it 
somehow. So I liked him very much. He was 
a good friend. And his headquarters were in 
Twin Falls. 

So when I got to Twin Falls, I went by to 
see him. And he said, “Oh, hi, Bill, old buddy!” 
and “Let’s have a drink,” and it was noon or 
something. And so we had a drink, and he 
said, “Well, what the hell are you doin’ here?” 

And I said, “Well, you’re not gonna believe 
it, but—da da da, my doctor, and I told him 
I’d go ft shin’.” So I said, “I heard that there was 
a fish or two in Idaho.” I said, “Here I am, but 
where do you catch a fish?” 

And he says, “Damn if I know.” But he 
said, “I. got guy that works on the metal cases 
for those signs—sheet metal man—that goes 
fishin all the time. And he comes back with 
em like that [two-foot gesture].” 

And so he called the guy in—shop out in 
the back where they’re poundin’, and this fella 
came in with his overalls. And “Oh, Mel—” 
(that fellow’s name was Mel Cosgriff—it’s 
Cosgriff Neon). 

So anyway, the fellow came in, and Mel 
said, “Where do you catch all those big fish?” 

And the fella said, “Stanley.” 

So I said, “Well, where the hell is Stanley?” 
So we got out a map, and then I saw where 
Stanley was. 

So I took of f and drove—I don’t know 
if I went to Stanley that day or not. And I 
might’ve; I drove real fast. Even with the 
trailer, I’d go eighty miles an hour. I think 
we may have—or the next day—it doesn’t 
matter. But I remember it was so funny. I got 

to Ketchum (why, I think we stayed maybe in 
Ketchum), which was a neat town. They had 
gambling there, then—and bars and all. And 
then Stanley is sixty miles north. It was dirt 
road in those days. 

So anyway, we pulled into Stanley about 
oh, six o’clock at night (it was dusk) in this 
Packard; and it was a pretty classy car—this 
great big Packard and this fancy trailer, and 
my girlfriend was a flashy blonde. And I had 
on a—I’ll never forget that—a gabardine suit 
that I liked very much, and it was what today 
would be a leisure suit. And it was tailored 
beautifully; I’d had it made in Hollywood and 
fit me beautifully. And I had little Weejun 
shoes; I looked like Hollywood Boulevard. 
And here I am up in the middle of Idaho in a 
real rough town. 

And I got in town; and I walked in this 
bar, which was Archie Danner’s bar and was— 
became a friend over the years. It was the first 
bar I saw, so I went in there. And so here’s 
these old cowboys standin around lookin’; 
and here I come in with my fancy little shoes 
and my gabardine, and they all— “Ooh, look 
at this!” 

But I had the blonde, and she looked 
pretty good. But all my life I for some reason 
just knew how to handle myself in a bar—and 
not show off or anything. I would have a drink, 
and I would buy everyone else a drink—and 
not rude or anything. I would politely say, 
“Would you—” you know—’’Would you like 
to have a drink?” And not [gruffly] “Give him 
a drink!”—I would say “Would you?” 

Well, then, we—my girlfriend and I—had 
a drink and the bartender, Archie Danner. 
And I said, “Would you ask anyone else if 
they’d have a drink?” 

And he asked them, and, “Well, yeah! Hell, 
yes!” And so then I bought another round, 
another round and not because I was tryin’ to 
make points or anything; it was just fun. That’s 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


the way I like to be in a bar; I like to buy a lot 
of drinks, and I had plenty of money 

So it wasn’t too long and I was a pretty 
popular guy, in spite of my gabardine suit and 
my Weejuns! And so then I got acquainted 
and of course, people drifted in and out of the 
bar. Archie Danner and I became pretty close 
friends, and we were—he just got killed this 
last year, a couple of months ago—friends of 
his wife and all of his kids and everything— he 
had about seven kids. 

But, we became acquainted, and I told him 
my story, you know. I came up here, I would 
like to catch a fish, and I said, “What I want to 
do—,” I said, “one reason I bought the trailer,” 
I said, “I would like to go out and park it by a 
stream.” I said, “Maybe it’s lazy of me, but it’s 
just something I’ve dreamed of all my life. If 
I’m gonna go fishin’, I’d like to—I want to be 
all by myself—nobody within twenty miles. 
And some fish in the stream, and get up in 
the morning and have my breakfast and then 
walk twelve feet and start fishing and maybe 
catch a fish.” I said, “That’s my idea of havin’ 

So Archie thought awhile, and he said, 
“Well, there’s Elk Creek up there. It’s pretty 
good.” He said, “That’s not too far, and fishin’ 
isn’t too bad,” and so-and-so. And he drew 
me a little map how to get there and—not 
too good a map. And I’d had a bit to drink 
by then, but like still, in those days, I could 
handle quite a bit. 

So we started out for Elk Creek, and 
it’s about twenty miles, I think, or fifteen. 
And I’d have trouble finding it today, but 
that night I think I only made one wrong 
turn, which I discovered immediately. So we 
drove right to it and found a real neat place 
for the trailer and parked there, and it was 
exactly what I wanted. It was totally isolated 
and just beautiful, and this stream running 
through—there weren’t too many trout in 

the stream, but that didn’t matter ’cause then 
we went elsewhere. But we parked there, and 
we liked it a lot. So we unhooked the trailer, 
and I think we stayed there— oh yeah, well, 
that was the funny thing. When I left on the 
doctor’s orders, I said, “Well, I’ll do what you 
told me to, but,” I said, “things are so busy and 
so much goin’ on,” I said, “I can only stay a 

So he said, “Well, that’s better than 
nothin’.” So I had planned to be gone a week. 
But I just enjoyed it so much up there. And I 
would go to Stanley every day and drink, and 
buy little groceries—we cooked in the trailer 
and everything. And then we’d go have dinner 

But I called Reno—’’How’s business?” 
And business was just fine. I called every 
other day at least—and business was good. 
They were makin’ money—everything’s fine. 
So my week turned into six weeks I was gone, 
before I went back. And I spent all of it in 
Stanley. And we stayed out there by the river 
for about three weeks, course, by then I was 
well acquainted, and we were fishin’ all over 
the area. And it was quite a drive. We’d go to 
town every night and hang around the bars 
till one or two, and then we’d drive back to the 
trailer—which was fun and no trouble. But 
then we got to thinkin’, “Well, why do all that 
drivin’? We spent an awful lot of time right in 
Stanley. That’s our headquarters.” 

So then this Archie had some property 
there; he had a little motel. And so he said, 
“Why don’t you bring it in here?” So we 
brought the trailer in and parked it in the 
corner of his property there and just lived the 
same way. That was where we lived; that was 
our headquarters instead of Elk Creek, twenty 
miles. So we stayed there six weeks. 

And when I came back—although I drank 
all the time I was there, I was still walkin’ a 
lot. And I had a big pot on me, even at that 


William F. Harrah 

age. But all the hills I climbed and just—you 
couldn’t help movin’ around no matter how 
lazy you were. I think my weight had gone 
from two hundred and somethin’ down to 
190.1 think I lost ten or fifteen pounds. I lost 
my pot, and I lost my shakes. When I came 
back, everybody was just amazed ’cause I was 
slender and tan and no shakes and—. And of 
course, that was Stanley—and then I loved 
Stanley and just kept going back there ever 

You said something about your broken neck. 

That was in September of’42. The war was 
on, and I was playin’ around. And I remember 
it was ’42 ’cause I had a ’42 Packard that I was 
very proud of. 

I had a friend of mine—was Monte 
somethin’ (I can give you his name if you 
want it). He’s still alive. But I was tryin’ to stay 
out of the Army (this was before I got—well, 
I wasn’t 4-F till after I broke my neck) . I was 
married, but I didn’t have any children, so I 
was 3-A. Then they were really in the papers 
and all, and it was getting—the war going on, 
and it looked like I was gonna be 1-A within 
six months, which I really didn’t want to be, 
like a lot of people. And so how do you stay 
out of the Army? 

And at that time, they had a—and it 
worked, too. You could become a ground 
school instructor. And they had courses 
that you took to become a ground school 
instructor. And because of wartime, why 
you—you could—if you really learned it, then 
you could get a job being a ground school 
instructor, which deferred you. And you 
taught young flyers all their ground school— 
navigation and meteorology, and all that stuff. 
So that sounded like a good way to stay out, 
so there was a school here. It was just here for 
that purpose; someone had opened a ground 

school. So I went to ground school, and I did 
a fair job. I understood a lot of it anyway, so 
I wasn’t havin’ too much trouble. And there 
was one instructor that was kinda spooky, 
and then there was this other instructor that I 
liked a lot. (As I said I’ll dig up his name if you 
want me to, but—.) He and I went out quite a 
bit. One night after school (the school was at 
night) —in the evening, why I said—we were 
dr inkin’, and I remember Rita had a Green 
Lantern down there. Rita was a good friend of 
mine; I kinda liked her. I used to hang around 
there a little bit—not too much, but I liked to 
go down and have a drink and maybe fool 
around but not too—. 

But anyway, this fella—I said, “Hey, do 
you want to go to the Green Lantern?” And 
he’d never heard of it. And I said, “Oh, it’s a 
neat place.” 

So I called up, and it was kinda late. And 
they were still around, so I said, “Okay, I’ll be 
down in a little bit.” And we started out, and I 
was really drunk. I drove across the bridge—I 
just maneuvered wrong, and hit the bridge. 
And I wasn’t really goin’ very fast, but I hit it. 
It was a steel post I hit, and in fact I bent it. 
In fact, it was bent there till they tore it down 
late last year; so I could still see where I bent 
the bridge. 

So my car stopped instantly, and I broke 
my neck. And the fortunate part of it was I was 
really lucky. And my friend, he went through 
the windshield. He got all cut up—but not— 
you know, just bloody and took a zillion 
stitches, but his life wasn’t in any danger. 

But my neck was broken, and I was 
unconscious, of course. And the fortunate 
part of it was, it was right, you know, just a 
few feet from the police station. And they 
heard the crash, so the police came out, and 
here’s the car and the guy there, and the fellas 
that took me out of the car had been properly 
instructed. They didn’t twist my neck, which 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


they could’ve paralyzed me. They lifted me 
very gently onto a stretcher and took me to 
Washoe Medical. 

And I had no doctor, then, and so Vernon 
Cantlon was the doctor that was on call. 
He was a young doctor here, then. And he 
came in, and he was an expert on that. And 
as I think looking back, he was as good as 
anybody in Reno at setting necks. He had a 
new procedure that was untried up till then, 
I guess. And that was, instead of a cast, they 
drilled holes in your skull [points to temples] 
—shallow holes— and put like ice tongs on 
you, and then with a weight on the end of 
the bed on a roller—which sounds terrible, 
but it wasn’t ’cause there was no—you didn’t 
feel a thing. The beauty of it is you wore no 
cast, ’cause there was always that tension. And 
you stayed in bed, and there was always that 
tension. So it was very new then. So I didn’t 
have the cast with all the itching and all the 

So anyway, I was in the hospital for nine 
weeks, I think it was, and fully recovered. And 
of course, I was automatically 4-F. And then 
this Monte (whatever his name was) —they 
patched him up, and they did an excellent 
job. They sewed him up, so today you can’t 
see a scar. And of course, I was concerned— 
well, we were good friends. But still good 
friends, when there’s somethin’ like that, they, 
you know—sometimes there’s a big lawsuit 
and this and that. And I paid all of Monte’s 
expenses in the hospital. And I didn’t ask for a 
release or anything; we were just friends, and 
I told him, “I’m sorry.” 

And he said, “Hell, we were both drunk.” 
And he never, ever did a thing. And today 
he lives in Illinois, and we send each other 
Christmas cards and he writes on his what 
he’s doin’ now and da da da da da. 

So although I was out of action for six 
weeks, I could, you know, I could keep in 

touch, and Bob Ring’d come to see me every 
day. That’s when my father said—it was really 
funny what he said. He was mad at me. He 
didn’t come to see me in the hospital; he kept 
in touch. Then when I got out, he came up; 
and he said, “You know, you were a goddamn 
fool for breakin’ your neck. But,” he says, “as 
long as you had to do it,” he said, “I’m glad 
you did it now!” [chuckles] —because it made 
me 4-F. 

And Dr. Cantlon—that was a funny story. 

He was Edwin’s older brother, but he 
looked younger. He was one of those people 
that had kind of a baby face. And of course, 
in ’42, he couldn’t’ve been much over thirty¬ 
something. He’d gone to Harvard—I think— 
medical school. He only practiced a couple 
of years. But he looked like he was about 

So anyway, why, they heard I was hurt, and 
of course, Bob Ring rushed to the hospital. 
And I was in the operating room or whatever, 
where they were puttin’ the tongs on me. So 
it took an hour or so, and everybody’s real 
nervous. So then Cantlon came out. And Bob 
Ring’s waiting. Cantlon went, and I guess he 
knew who Bob was or something. So he went 
to him; he said, “Mr. Harrah’s gonna be okay.” 
He said, “He’s broke his neck, but it’s gonna-it’s 
gonna take a couple of months and he’s gonna 
be okay.” 

So Bob—this young punk is tellin Bob 
this, and Bob said, “Well, thank you very 
much, but I’d like to talk to the doctor” 
[laughing]. Cantlon had been through that 
enough times that it didn’t bother him any 
more, you know. And then over the years we 
all would have dinner together until Cantlon 
died; why, we’d always tell that joke about Bob 
Ring, who wanted to talk to the doctor! 

But that was really good in a way—I 
mean it taught me a lot of things. But also, I 
had drank every day for years; that was a way 


William F. Harrah 

of life. And being in the hospital there and 
flat on my back—and Id said I didn’t want a 
drink and couldn’t drink if I wanted to. And 
I loved to read, anyway, so I got caught up on 
my reading and had a wonderful rest and no 
liquor. So when I came out of there—although 
I was wobbly on my feet at first, but of course, 
I got over that real fast—but I’d lost my pot, I’d 
lost a lot of weight, and no more shakes, and 
just—it was wonderful. Although I started 
drinkin’ again, it was quite different. 

You really were lucky there. 

Yeah, I was, ’cause I could’ve been 
paralyzed or killed. 

And lucky with the business, too, having 
somebody who could take over. 

Oh yeah. Bob was just—you know, he 
handled my money better than I did. 

Yeah. By September, you know, when I 
was in Stanley, and then when I came back, 
we had not a huge bankroll, but we were in 
good shape. And then our first winter, things 
slowed down a lot more then than they 
do now. And we had to learn to cut down. 
But there was no doubt of the place being 
successful, except occasionally, like a Sahati 
would come in. “Nick the Greek” played with 
us a little bit, although he never won anything 
from us. But we had some pretty big Crap 
games, at least big for us at the time, which 
was kinda scary. 

After the first winter and the next summer, 
we knew we were established then. By then, 
we’d learned an awful lot about what to do 
and what not to do. So it was successful, and I 
guess in the first year, I paid off my loans and 
all, and I think we were in pretty good shape. 

Well, of course, the big thing was to avoid 
the cheaters, and then the other thing was 
to watch your expenses very closely because 
expenses are extremely high in the casino 
’cause everybody’s paid quite high compared 
to the surrounding jobs. So just a few days 
of very slow business and with a, you know, 
quite a big nut [daily expense) (I’d had no idea 
what it was in those days, but it had to be in 
the thousands), why you could get in trouble 
real fast. 

And I remember Wayne Martin—I 
remember one, it was a severe winter. It was 
either our first winter or our second winter. 
But there was snow in the streets of Reno. 
They had to use snowplows; it was very heavy. 
And I came down one day, and there was so 
much snow that people just stayed away from 
downtown, and you could park anywhere on 
Second Street and just about anywhere on 
Virginia Street. Then, they were streets that 
had been plowed. There was just nobody 
around. Then I went in the club—I think it 
was Wayne’s day off (and he didn’t have many 
of those either) —and I went in the club, and 
there wasn’t a customer. And here we had all 
our dealers and all our bartenders and all—. 
Of course, it was maybe ten in the morning, 
when you wouldn’t expect much in January 
or February. But I thought, “Brother! This 
rate and our eight-thousand-dollar nut” or 
whatever it was—I said, “It isn’t going to take 
us long to get out of business here.” And that’s 
something I learned that’s almost true today. 
Many executives in any line of business are 
very slow to act, or quite often are very slow to 
act. And we have the same problem here. Just 
like today Lloyd Dyer and I were talkin’ about 
something; he and I had felt it was a good idea 
the other day, or within a month, and it should 
have been done in a week, and it isn’t done yet. 
And he said, “We’re too slow to act.” 

And I said, “You’re right, you’re right.” 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


But anyway, it’s just—even real dedicated— 
like Bob Ring, who’s as dedicated as anybody, 
will still be slow to act in a way, because you 
may have to lay somebody off or lay ’em of f a 
few days, and fire the janitor and, you know— 
to cut a nut, you gotta cut it. And most people 
don’t want to. They want to quit sp endin’ the 
money, but they don’t want to hurt anybody, 
and usually you have to hurt somebody. 

So anyway, there’s no business and that. 
And I called Wayne Martin, and I said, “Come 
on down here. We got a big problem.” 

And he—’’What is it?” He thought we 
were gettin’ cheated or something. 

I said, “Just there’s no business, and we 
got a big nut here. We got to take a big look 
at this thing.” 

He came down, and Wayne was really 
super guy, in that you get the message to 
him—which he got right away—and he’d just 
start workin’ on it. And he said, “Well, we 
don’t really need that; we don’t really need 
that”—and he cut her way down and laid 
off—and laid off his friends and everything. 
We were still in business. We had a Crap 
table, and we had a couple of “21” tables. I 
think our Faro Bank, maybe we closed it on 
the graveyard. We just cut way down where 
it was a real healthy little nut we had that we 
could maybe not meet it every day, but we 
could—you know, there was no question we 
were going to stay in business. He also worked 
on being able to expand it. Saturday came 
and we put more games in, there’d be some 
business, and he’d get some dealers; so he did 
a super job there. 

The two things—you know, a casino as a 
business is, well, there’s many, but one is to not 
get cheated. And then also, like any business, 
watch your nut extremely close, and vary it 
according to the amount of business, or you 
can just get eaten up. So when we had that in 
control, then it was just—we had promotions 

of various kinds and so on and still played 
with our Bingos. 

[Wayne] was just a wonderful man, one 
of the nicest men I ever knew; but he was 
born with two and a half strikes on him, 
health-wise, ’cause he had a bad back—he 
walked around kinda with a shuffle and bent 
over. He worked in—was married, but no 
children. And in the war, why, he got a job in 
San Francisco in a defense industry for several 
years, which was a big change for him. Born 
and raised in Nevada and have to go to San 
Francisco and live in San Francisco, work, 
and fight the traffic and the San Francisco 
people—he just hated it. And after a couple 
of years, he was drafted anyway and was 
instantly 4-F because of the many things 
wrong with him. Then he came back to work; 
and then, of course, that worked in perfectly 
for my plans, because he was available to open 
the place. 

But besides his back he had—I can’t 
remember all the— it’s hard to think of 
anything that you can have that he didn’t 
have. And he didn’t have any bad habits; he 
drank but not to excess, and I don’t think he 
even smoked. But you name it, he had it, and 
most of it was just inherited. So finally he died 
quite young, I can say now—I think he was 
probably in his fifties. And I don’t remember 
what he died of, but it was just something 
that he had that killed him like—(well, I don’t 
remember; I guess it doesn’t matter) 

The war was over, then the Japs wanted 
their place back, which I tried to argue with 
them there a little bit ’cause I had a good thing; 
but they got it back okay. And then I still had 
the other one, which later—that’s when Pappy 
Smith made the deal with Chase. 

Oh, Dr. Chase owned the building at 
Virginia and Douglas Alley (that’s Douglas, 
isn’t it? And Lincoln goes this way). He’d 


William F. Harrah 

owned it, and it had been in his family for 
many years. He was a—I forget what kind of a 
doctor he was, but he lived in Los Angeles. He 
didn’t come around; he was just a name, and 
Mr. Yori was his agent here. So Yori was the 
man you dealt with, and Yori was very slow. 

So we had the Bingo in the corner, and 
Chase was the landlord (Yori was his agent) 
, and three-year lease; and at the end of two 
years maybe I’d get another three-year lease. 
And Harolds Club was next door; they owned 
their building. So then they were doing real 
good, and they got the property behind. So 
then Harolds Club wanted to expand some 
more, and they wanted to get where we were. 
I didn’t know about that at the time, and we 
were friendly. And it was all Raymond I. 
then; Harold was around, and Raymond A. 
was around, but Raymond I. was The Man. 
And we were good friends, as I said, with our 
doors and all. But then I went to Yori for my 
new lease, and I was havin’ a little problem. 
And then somehow I got wind that there was 
something going on, that Harolds was tryin 
to get my lease or a lease on the property that 
I had—a master lease on the building, or buy 
the building. 

So I called Dr. Chase, and either he came 
up or I went down to see him—and I don’t 
know, maybe both. But I was in Los Angeles, 
and I was in his office. And I said, “I’m real 
concerned. I hear that Raymond I. or Harolds 
Club is talkin’ to you about a lease on the 
building. And I’d be out on my ear; and how 
’bout it?” 

And he said, “No, Bill, don’t you worry 
about it.” He said, “You’ve been an excellent 
tenant for these six years or eight years, 
whatever it is. You’ve been absolutely excellent. 
You’ve kept your property up good and clean 
and nice and paid your rent right on the day, 
and we couldn’t ask for a better— a little raise 
once in while, and you didn’t squawk—you 

just took the raise. We love you as a tenant. 
Just don’t even think about it.” 

So I said, “Oh, wow. That’s wonderful. 
That’s nice, fine, good.” 

Then the rumors kept persisting. My 
father was around, and I kept him fully 
informed. And I said, “We may have a 
problem here. It looks like—and I don’t know 
what’s goin’ on, but I think they’re workin’ on 
a master lease.” So then we heard the papers 
were being drawn and that Raymond I. had 
gone to L.A. to sign the papers. So I got that, 
and it was pretty accurate, too—I don’t know 
where I got it. And so I called my father in 
Los Angeles, and I said, “Get up to Dr. Chase’s 
office right away and see what’s goin’ on up 
there.” And my father had been to see him. So 
my father went up, and Raymond I. was there 
and inside, da-da-da-da-da. 

And so he came out, and they were shakin’ 
hands and all. And my father said, “I want to 
see you, Dr. Chase.” 

“Yes, what about?” 

“Well, Bill’s concerned.” 

And he said, “Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Harrah. 
But,” he said, “I’ve leased the place to Mr. 
Smith, and you’ll have to deal with him.” 

And so my father said—and either Chase 
had told him and me—he said, “Well, you told 
us that we had nothing to worry about, that 
we were excellent tenants, and we could stay 
there as long as we wanted.” 

And then Chase answered, which is a 
real tricky answer. And I’ve heard it from 
other sources; it’s somethin’ to watch out for. 
“Yes, I said that. But, Mr. Smith (I’m an old 
man now, or I’m getting up in years)—Mr. 
Smith made me such a tremendous offer for 
the property that for the sake of my children 
and grandchildren, I couldn’t afford to turn 
it down— for their sake.” See, he wasn’t doing 
anything against me; he was doin’ somethin’ 
for his kids. So it solved his conscience, 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


but it knocked me out of the ballpark. But 
fortunately I’d had the other place down the 
street, and then I got to stay there for a couple 
of years while they were makin’ plans. I didn’t 
get kicked out right away, but it was quite an 

Did that create some bad feelings between you 
and the Smiths after all those years ? 

Yeah, it did, yeah. Yeah, it was dirty 
pool. And I didn’t want to get in a fight with 
Raymond I.—he was too big—but I said, 
“Gee whiz. You know, we’re good neighbors 
here, and all of a sudden—.” He said, “Bill, 
I had to get the place, and you got down 
there, you got—you know, da-da-da— 
you’ve got this and that.” So I maintained 
my friendship with him, but I didn’t feel 
as good, you know. I respected him for his 
business ability, and we worked together till 
he died on all sorts of things—politics, you 

He was a great one for the John Birch 
Society. He used to come and see me on that 
and bring all the books and talk to me for 
an hour. And I felt much like he did, which 
I told him. I said, “I’m for balanced budgets, 
I’m for this, that, and the other.” But he didn’t 
have anyone else to talk to, I don’t believe, 
that would listen; so I would listen, and so—. 
And I don’t regret it a bit; it was an hour of 
my time about every two months and to 
listen to Pappy Smith talk about government 
goin to hell and the damn this-and-that. And 
it was good for him; it didn’t hurt me any. 
He was okay, except it was kinda—. Then 
when you are competitors, why, you push 
and shove; so I’d’ve probably done the same 
thing if I’d’ve been him. 

You had some other neighbors in this area up 
here — some other casinos like Fitzgerald’s. 

And there was a hamburger stand in therefor 
a while. 

Yeah, that was George Johnson—he was 
on the corner. Of course, I beat him out of the 
lease, so I guess I couldn’t—. He and I were 
good friends. We opened about the same time. 
George Johnson—he’s now in Sacramento, 
you know. He has a couple of motels down 
there. I see him once in a while. He’s just the 
same as he always was. I remember it was the 
hamburgers for a dime, and he did very well 
there. But then I needed that, and so I went to 
Yori and offered more rent and really beat him 
out of it. But we stayed pretty good friends. 
We see each other. 

But let’s see, there was that and the—. 
So we had the whole corner, then, enlarged 
our Bingo, and we had several years of that. 
And then next was Harolds, and then next 
was the Reno Club, which I mentioned. Next 
was Murray Jacobs, and next was Robbins, 
which is now the Nevada Club, although I 
think Robbin still owns the building—part 
of it. And then Joe and Pick Hobson had the 
next building. That was the Frontier, which 
we later bought out. And then we were next 
and then the bank. 

Joe and Pick, they bought that building. 
It was terrible, as I remember, at the time. 
See, they made a lot of money in Hawthorne 
during the war. And they came to town 
with several hundred thousand dollars, 
and I didn’t have that kind of money. And 
that building was for sale for thirty or forty 
thousand dollars, and they bought it—maybe 

And later we bought a lease from them 
for a million and somethin’—we paid for a 
lease—which put Joe and Pick on the right 
road. And then, of course, we had an option 
in it to buy it, which we always—to get that. 
And then later—well, when we leased it, then 


William F. Harrah 

we tore the wall out. And then that was a 
whole new ball game cause we were, I guess, 
twenty-five feet. 

[Looking at map] Yeah, Murray had his 
thirteen feet, and then we had a falling out. He 
got to hangin around the bar, and I think he 
thought I was makin a lot more money than I 
was. And he kinda tried to roust me in a way, 
which was unpleasant. We had a few words, 
and (what did I do? I did somethin’)—. Oh 
yeah, in fact it got where it didn’t amount to 
much any more, and he would become real 
tough. He was my landlord, and he was real 
ornery. And the time had come to get out, and 
he wanted to keep my bar, which I wanted. 
And we didn’t have any agreement on it, and 
we just—it was a handshake sort of a deal. So 
I was kinda mad at him. 

So I went in there—I hired a crew, and 
I went in there one night—it was kinda fun. 
And we took the bar out and put it on a truck 
and drove away. And then when he came 
down the next day, all he had was a vacant 
room, which really shook him up. I had the 
right to do that. And we had a lawsuit, even, 
which didn’t get anywhere. 

He’s a good guy, really—and he made his 
deal with Fitz [Lincoln Fitzgerald] and became 
a zillionaire overnight. And we’re real good 
friends now, which shows you how things 
work out ’cause we liked each other, anyway. 
And then when we got our problem out of the 
way, why, we—. I see him two or three times 
a year, and like, any day I can get a call that 
Murray Jacobs is out in front. He spends a lot 
of time in Phoenix. He lives in Reno and a 
lot of time in Phoenix, plays a lot of golf, and 
say, “Murray’s out in front.” I’ll—’’Bring him 
in. So he’ll come in and sit and talk for two 
hours—just what’s goin on, and the old days, 
his dad, and my dad, and then our health, 
and are we havin’ any fun, and you know, we 
just—. It’s not too often when you’re friends 

with somebody and you have a failin’ out that 
you go back and become friends again. But 
he’s one—he’s a real good friend. 

Did I tell you the time Hopper jumped 
all over me? Where our property was over? 
When we were remodeling to put in the first 
nice club—and of course, we were next to 
the bank. And that was an old building built 
on no foundation or anything. You know 
how they were built, just on rubble. So when 
we got in there—and of course, the bank—. 
Whenever anybody’s remodeling next to you, 
you better watch and see what they’re doin’; 
they can mess you up. So they were properly 
paying attention. And we’re workin’ away very 
diligently, and old Hopper was the president, 
who I wasn’t very close to—it was Mr. Hopper 
which—well, we shouldn’t’ve been. 

And so he thought we were—well, he 
wanted to be sure everything was right. So he 
had the property surveyed, and he found that 
our building [Saturno building] was either ten 
inches or a foot further south than it should’ve 
been. And of course, it upset him terribly, but 
that had happened in 1885, something like that. 
When it was first laid out, somebody made a 
mistake, and nobody had ever caught it. 

But one morning, it was so funny! I would 
stay out late; I’d close the place up, and I was 
drinking. So like it’d be two or three or four, 
and then quite often I’d stop at the— what was 
bar back here I mentioned? 

The Grand, yeah. So I stopped in the 
Grand six nights a week. And I was in the 
Grand and I would hang around and drink 
and talk and kid, and quite often I stayed out 
to daylight. But anyway, this day I’d stayed 
out, and for some reason—usually I just went 
home—but for some reason I was goin’ back 
to the casino. I don’t know why; and even 
though I drank all night, I could still walk 
and all, and I didn’t wobble—I just looked 
tired and everything. And you can tell I’d 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


been drinking, but I had my senses pretty 

But the sun was shining, and I walked 
around in front of the bank, and Hopper 
was cornin’ down (I don’t know if he was 
unlocking it—it wasn’t open yet, but it was 
close to opening time) , and he spotted me. 
He said [gruffly], “Harrah Come here!” 

And so I went, “Yes, Mr. Hopper.” And he 
jumped all over me! And of course, I didn’t 
know anything about his survey. 

He said bla bla bla, and he said bla bla 
bla—’’You’re a foot over in my property!” He’s 
like this [fierce shaking finger], you know— 
’’You’re a foot over in our property!” He said, 
“That’s a terrible way to get property!—to 
build on somebody else’s.” He said, “That’s as 
bad as stealing!” 

And I’m—you know, he caught me flat- 
footed. I’m a bla bla bla bla. And I said, “Well, 
Mr. Hopper, it’s Saturnos—,” I said, “I have 
the deed on the property, and it goes back to 
1885, and it’s the same measurements.” I said, 
“That happened in 1885. How can you blame 
me for it?” 

And he said, “Just the same as stealin’!” 
[Laughs] Oh, he was mad! 

And then later, of course, I’d told Eddie 
Questa the story. And of course, Eddie knew 
about it—he worked for the bank. And he 
laughed, and he said, “Well, that’s Hop.” 

I said, “He was bawlin’ me out for 
somethin’ that—.”1 said, “I was born in 1911, 
and he’s bawlin’ me out for somethin’ that 
happened in 1885!” [Laughing] 

Wasn’t it during that early period that you 
began to advertise and decide how to advertise 
gambling and when you invented the name 

Yeah. Oh, we did that, that’s true. We 
started advertising. We advertised a lot with 

our Bingo. We just wrote the ads ourselves, 
and they were so simple then. It just was 
two-for-a-dime, eight-dollar games and da 
da da— and just took it to the paper and put 
it in—Bob Ring and I. 

The when we were opening our casino, 
we realized that we were a little more bigger 
and more sophisticated. We couldn’t do it 
ourselves, we wanted a better job done; so 
then I think we got Walt States to do it. He and 
Wallie Warren were in together. They’d started 
a company (I forget—States and Warren or 
whatever it was called). And it was a pretty 
good idea. Walt States was to handle the 
advertising, and Wallie Warren was to handle 
the political end. And you hired them as 
advertising, and you kinda got your political 
representation thrown in—it was a pretty 
good idea. And of course, Wallies still goin’. 
But the only faulty thing about the thing was 
States really wasn’t very good. He was a good 
guy, but he wasn’t too good at advertising. 
But it was quite adequate. They handled our 
advertising at the first. 

Wallie Warren went on his own as a 
lobbyist—and a super one. He’s still in the 
same position today with us. He has other 
clients besides us, but he’s still just Wallie 

He’s always had marvelous political connections. 
And I wondered if maybe those early days, 
when he had such good connections, you might 
want to describe what he did for you. 

Oh, I don’t remember anything especially 
he did. There was no really political wallop we 

He was close to Pat McCarran, for example. 

Yeah, I understood all that, and I knew 
it at the time, but I didn’t say, “Hey, Wallie 


William F. Harrah 

Warren, go tell Pat McCarran to defend—” 
cause there were bigger fish than me in the 
Around then I just tagged along; I was a little 

g u y- 

But Wallie always knew what was going 
on; and he had a knack, which lobbyists must 
have, of being on both sides of something and 
being friends with everybody, which—that’s 
impossible for me to be. I can be friendly with 
anybody; but I’m on one side of somethin’ and 
a fella goes against me on the other side, I just 
can’t put my arm around him and take him 
to lunch, which the lobbyists do very happily 
Doesn’t bother [chuckling] ’em at all! 

Lawyers are that way, too. (I’ll digress a 
minute.) It’s so disturbing to be in a lawsuit. 
Whether you’re winning or losing, you’re 
gonna have your lawyer say so-and-so. And 
then the opposing lawyer gets up and says 
that lawyer’s a liar, or whatever he can say 
without gettin’ thrown in jail. And they’ll 
scream and yell and shake their fists at each 
other, and when court’s adjourned for lunch, 
they’ll walk down the street arm in arm and 
have lunch, and— [laughs]. That always bugs 
me. But that’s the profession, I guess. 

And the “gaming”—that just—you know, 
you have advertising meetings and things. 
And that evolved, but I think I probably 
thought of it. But it wasn’t a big thing; it was 
a little thing. It’s just “gaming” sounded better 
than “gambling,” and we weren’t tryin’ to 
revolution anything; it just sounded a little 
neater like many synonyms are a little neater 
than the other. 

But we advertised, and we had a theme in 
our casino that was brought about—oh, yeah, 
that’s an interesting story. There was a bar in 
Los Angeles—it’s on the, hm—(I could take 
you to it) in Hollywood. And I’d heard about 
it. And it’s a six-toot room, yeah. That’s how 
buildings are, you know, and there’s just this 
six-foot room—was left over, and it’s quite 

deep—maybe sixty feet deep, but it’s six feet 
wide. And a fella put a bar in it, a bar you can 
walk up to and buy a drink and still people 
can get by—this doesn’t seem possible. 

So I’d heard about it, and so I said, “Gee, 
I gotta see that,” ’cause that’s always been 
a phobia of mine—they make bars too big 
behind where the bartender is, and they still 
do today, if you don’t watch ’em. They’ll make 
it just like that [four feet or so]. And here’s the 
bar, and here’s the backbar, and he should just 
have room enough to work and for another 
bartender to pass him. But they will invariably 
(course, now I’ve screamed so much that we 
build ours pretty good, although I still watch 
it) —and for no reason the bartender will 
actually—he’s servin’, and you want a beer, and 
the beer’s here, he may have to take a step to 
get it—all this space—I don’t know why. And 
you look at bars in the future; you’ll see many 
of them—just a lot of room back there. 

So when I heard about this bar in a six- 
foot room, I said, “That’s my kind of people.” 
I said, “They really know how to do it.” And 
I went and looked at it; I think the bar’s even 
still there today. And there’s a little bar, and 
the back bar is up higher, and they had used 
every inch, of course. But I’d say the bar front 
doesn’t set out over maybe eighteen inches 
at the most. And the bar top is just wide 
enough for a glass. And there’s room for one 
bartender (it’s only, you know, this long) and 
maybe eight stools, and in back there’s a few 
little booths, you know. But people can sit at 
the bar on a stool, and you can walk behind 
them. It’s just the cutest little thing you ever 

So they used every inch, and then the 
fixtures were very good, too. They were very 
high quality. So I said, “I want to meet that 
architect,” and I met him—I can’t remember 
his name. And he was a fella from the Beverly 
Hills area— Hollywood-Beverly Hills—and 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


a young, go-gettin kind of a guy; and we hit 
it off real good. So he designed the place for 
us. And he did it, too. We had four bars to 
start, and they were real narrow and small. 
And then we realized that was ridiculous—we 
took ’em out. I think we had two bars for quite 

Then he introduced me to a fixture 
maker in Beverly Hills— beautiful fixtures— 
teakwood and all. But then I forget—I 
think the architect evolved (as he was also a 
decorator or he handled the decorating) — 
and we wanted a theme. And he thought of 
the astrological signs. And he had them all 
over, and every one was, you know, etched in 
glass and all—very beautiful. And that was 
our—which wasn’t a bad thing for a casino, 
come to think of it. It was really nice, and we 
had everything but carpet. I think we were 
afraid to put in carpet. I think we had terrazzo. 
And we were afraid of carpet because we just 
were afraid we wouldn’t get the general public. 
And then later we tried carpet, and it worked 
real good. Or maybe we did have carpet—and 
we had terrazzo around the bars—that was 
it—and we had carpet. It was done real super, 
just from seem’ that one little bar. 

And that kinda revolutionized the casinos. 
Up till then they were just, you know—Bank 
Club was real nice, and it was just nothing 
exciting. It was clean and pretty glass and 
pretty bar, but just zero. And this really had 
some atmosphere; it was pretty good. Only 
thing, it was a little small, but we managed 

You’d been talking about the advertising. 

Walt States and Wallie Warren split up, 
and Walt had some help. But he really wasn’t 
too qualified. So eventually we got rid of 
him and got, I think Meltzer was next—Dick 

Meltzer—from San Francisco, who was super. 
He’s our first real advertising agency we ever 
had, really that knew their stuff. He did a real 
good job for us. And then he’d come up with 
a lot of clever ideas and sign boards and all 
that sort of thing. 

Then we’ve gone from agency to agency 
until we had a real good San Francisco 
agency—the last one we had and then the 
last—it’s probably been five years we have 
our own, which is called an in-house agency, 
which is without any question the way to go. 
You hear a lot of arguments the other way, 
but then they’re phony. If you have qualified 
people, you just eliminate one middle man, 
you know. Plus you have fast— you get 
things done quicker ’cause we just have an 
advertising meeting and go. And then another 
argument that you have—it convinced us for a 
little while—was the art work and that sort of 
thing. And of course, we have artists, but the 
real super stuff, that’s professional, and they’re 
kinda independent anyway. And we can just 
go to them and say, “Hey, we want somethin”’ 
and buy it. That’s just like the agency does. 

Well, let me just ask you a little bit more 
about the problems in advertising as you’ve 
been associated with them, more than the 
advertising meetings. For so long there was 
this stigma against advertising anything with 
the word “casino”, and so you had to advertise 
the “show business,” or you had to advertise 
the “fun.” And you weren’t allowed to advertise 
anything that even looked like it might be 
advertising gambling across state lines, even 
though everybody knew what it was. What 
kinds of discussions did you have to have with 
your advertising people to overcome those 

Oh, we didn’t worry too much. I think 
we handled that properly; we went to our 


William F. Harrah 

lawyers. And ask, you know, a legal question, 
you should ask a lawyer. I think we asked 
them, and they interpreted the law. And at 
that time I think that whoever was enforcing 
it, the government agency that was, had just 
taken a little more on than they had the right 
to do, that any word that da da da da da. And 
what the thing is—the law was—’’advertising 
a lottery through the mails.” And okay, like 
a Keno game is a lottery, but is a Crap game 
a lottery? And you can define it two ways; 
you can define it as a lottery or not a lottery. 
And in my opinion, it’s not a lottery. And it 
meets the qualifications of a lottery in that 
you pay something to play, and the outcome 
is determined by luck, and you win a prize 
of value. That’s a lottery in one definition. 
But the definition that I prefer, a lottery is 
a lottery; it’s a Keno game. And a Bingo is 
almost a lottery, although not exact. But it’s 
where you buy a ticket for so much money, 
and then they pull some numbers out and the 
numbers are on your ticket. Chinese lottery, 
that’s a lottery in my definition. And I think 
that’s been recognized over the years now; that 
is a lottery. So you can advertise gaming; you 
can advertise “21 ” if you want to, I think, and 
Craps, although we don’t; the “gaming” just 
suffices. But I still would question, I would 
hesitate to advertise a true lottery. Like that’s 
why they called it “Keno,” ’cause they didn’t 
want to say “lottery.” “Racehorse Keno” they 
called it for a while. But as you said, so much 
more liberal now. 

Do you want to talk about the beginnings of 
lounge entertainment in Harrah’s? 

Yeah, okay. We did that—I don’t remember 
if we put it in before we expanded or not— 
entertainment, that is. See, we had our thirty- 
five feet, and when we got next door, we had 
seventy feet. The original was thirty-five, 

and then we got thirty-five next door—or it’s 
thirty-six. The old one’s thirty-six, the new 
one thirty-five ’cause we stole a foot from the 
bank. [Laughs] That’s funny! 

We had the thirty-six feet. We had it in the 
Blackout, then we got it in here. And I don’t 
think we put in entertainment till we got the 
expansion. And that year—I don’t remember 
what year that was. 

We put in a little stage bar in the corner 
there, and it went quite well. It was very tiny 
’cause we needed every inch we could have. 
We didn’t have any booths; we just had a bar 
and maybe fifteen, twenty stools. And it was 
done pretty nice, like so [drawing sketch]. 
Maybe we had a false partition here. The bar 
would be like this, and the stools. And then 
the performers would be up here. But you can 
see with this, they could come in—they came 
in from the basement, and they come up here 
and go in here; and they would come from 
behind. There’s nothin’ worse than cornin’ 
through the crowd to get on stage. The space 
we had it was a pretty classy little—. And 
we had some—well, Wayne Newton worked 
here [laughs]. So we had some pretty good 
ones, and we liked it a lot. Well, we liked 
having Jackson ’cause we paid him, you know, 
a hundred and fifty dollars a week or two 
hundred or something; and the money was 
there—we sold that many more drinks. When 
we put this in with our little trios and things, 
why, the money was there—it just—peopled 
come in and bought drinks and maybe would 
play “21.” Plus the joint was so much more 
exciting, and that’s true today. You walk in 
a place, and all you hear is the click of the 
slot machines. That’s where Fitz [Lincoln 
Fitzgerald, owner] missed the boat, and he’s 
still missin’ the boat—although I guess he 
has some over there in his new place. Just the 
fact there’s some music—”Ooh, wow! We’re 
somewhere,” you know. Where if it’s just—and 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


maybe the man wants to play, maybe the lady 
couldn’t care less; but there’s a little music, 
she may want to hang around, so it’s a good 

That’s the point of the entertainment, anyway. 

Yeah, oh yeah, yeah, of course, course. To 
bring people in and once they’re in, to keep 
’em there. And of course, that’s how we work 
it, you know. But like our “cabaret,” we call 
’em today—the show will start maybe—or 
generally; you can’t always time when the 
Headliner Room will “break,” as we say, or 
empty—the show’s over. And say it’s over at 
nine-thirty, and you can time it pretty well; 
but some stars vary their times quite a bit. But 
say the show’s over; ideally, if it’s over at nine- 
thirty, then the other show would have started 
about nine-twenty-five. So people start—see, 
they come out, and okay, they’ve seen the 
show; we brought ’em in; now they may be 
wantin’ to go home. We don’t want ’em to go 
home; we want ’em to stay around. So walkin’ 
out and here da da da da— “Oh, wait! Let’s 
don’t go yet!” But if the lounge or the cabaret 
is dead at the time the other one’s dead, why, 
“Hm, let’s leave.” You want somethin’ goin all 
the time. And it works. 

You talked about getting to meet all of the 
people in the Blackout Bar—the leaders in Reno 
and so forth—after it became the place to go. 
How about talking now about some of the new 
customers as the place began to expand, the 
players and ones that you became particularly 
friendly with. 

I was never too friendly with many of 
the players. I’m not today—I mean I know 
them—I know some of them—a lot of them 
I don’t know, and it’s kinda neat that way— 
to not get too close. But then, oh, the man 

who loses fifty thousand—I’m not the best 
in the world to handle him, and we have 
professionals that can handle him (and also 
I’m the guy supposedly that got the fifty). I’m 
in a different position than an employee. An 
employee can sympathize. He can say, “Gee 
whiz. I know how you feel. I blew twelve 
thousand last week at Harvey’s. I—” da da 
da. Where I can’t say that, so it’s really good 
to get not—still am friendly—”How do you 
do,” da da da da da. And then, I don’t get too 
close. And it works real good. 

I had a thought there that was pretty good. 
[Pause] Well, I guess I kinda said it, that our 
good players like Rome Andreotti or [Merton] 
Mert Smith who know them ten times better 
than I do. And it’s a good arrangement. In 
fact, like the golf tournaments, which I don’t 
go to because I’m not a golfer—but the tact 
that I’m not around too much I guess gives 
me an air of mystery, or something. So when 
I do see them, why, they’re quite impressed 
that Bill Harrah said hello (which sounds 
kind of snooty but it works real good) . One 
of ’em, Art Berbarian, a fella from around 
Fresno, very wealthy man, an early family 
down there, and they own just field after 
field—wonderful, productive land. And he’s a 
zillionaire. And I think he had four brothers, 
and they own thousands of acres. And his 
brothers have died over the years, by accident, 
and this and that, and he’s the only one left. 
And of course, they were married and wives 
and things, but still, a lot of it’s still in the 
family; and he has all this—. And he’s ’bout 
our best customer. And he and I are “Art” 
[and] “Bill” sort of a thing. But still I think 
I’m not too close to him. I will be at the Lake, 
and he may be sitting in the next booth or 
something, and I’ll go over and “How ya doin’, 
Art?” and all. (course, I always find out how 
he’s done beforehand.) But he’s about our best 
player. So I know him, but not like—see, I’d 


William F. Harrah 

never had dinner with him. I’ve had a drink 
with him. We sell him Rolls Royces, or give 
him Rolls Royces. He has a son that I think 
we sold a Ferrari real cheap. 

But it’s an awkward position, very 
awkward. In the old days when I was on the 
floor, I didn’t, ’cause I didn’t know enough 
about the games, but occasionally I would 
be the floor boss. That meant Wayne had to 
leave for an hour or so and I would take over. 
And I couldn’t tell if the Craps were phony, 
but I could handle everything else. But the 
awkward thing, which I learned real fast, 
that where Wayne could say no, I couldn’t say 
no. I mean I could say no, but it wouldn’t be 
accepted ’cause I was the guy, and it was my 
money, and so I was a cheapskate for sayin no. 
But anyone else—Bob Ring or Wayne—they 
could pass the buck. And they’d say, “Oh gee, 
I’d love to give it to you, but if I do, Bill’ll raise 
hell”— which is—you know—doesn’t bother 
me any, if you gotta say that. But it’s tough 
being the—you know. 

When did Warren Nelson start working for 

Oh, he started at the opening. Wayne 
Martin got him. Wayne knew him and 
brought him in to run the Keno. Yeah. That 
was Warren—see, he came out of Montana 
where there was a lot of Keno up there—Butte. 

Warren and I are friends today. I know 
him, you know, Gaming Commission things 
and all that—’’Warren,” “Bill,” you know. I’ve 
known his wife; in fact, I knew them before 
they got married, and I knew her before they 
got married. 

He ran the Keno for us, but he brought 
everyone from Montana to work in the 
Keno—which at the time made sense— ’cause 
that’s where they’d had Keno for years, and 
there were a lot of trainees; so it was easy. 

Montana kids were good, and a lot of ’em we 
have came from Montana. 

But it got to be a sore point that if a fella 
wasn’t from Montana, he didn’t amount 
to much in Warren’s eyes. Warren was an 
independent thinker which is okay. But when 
he’s workin’ for you—and occasionally he 
would do somethin’ against the rules, which 
didn’t hurt the place any, but he ran it like it 
was his own place. And he would do that—I’d 
come back; I’d say, “Why the hell did you do 
that? That isn’t what I want.” 

And he’d say, “Well that’s the way it should 


And I’d say, “Warren, you’re mixed up 
here!” I said, “I’m—you know—” which I 
wouldn’t say it exactly that way. But what I 
meant to say, or I meant was, “It’s my place; 
I want it run this way. And if you have your 
own place, you wanna run it that way—” 
which I guess he finally did! [Laughs] And he 
would fight you, you know. This was the way 
it should be, by golly; and he was sure of that. 

[Warren Nelson] was right below Wayne, 
as I guess he was the manager. But it seemed 
the Montana boys were in all the key jobs. A 
promotion came along, a Montana boy got it, 
which was okay for a while, but then when we 
got well established and became a pretty good 
place, why, then as anyone can see, they made 
a morale problem. And Warren had always 
been ambitious, which is—nothin’ wrong with 
that—that’s to be admired. 

So as time went on, there was a little more 
strain, possibly, between us; he realty favored 
his buddies from Montana, and they could do 
no wrong. And so finally one time, I think the 
break-off was between Warren and I, and it 
was just something that he did for one of his 
fellas to kinda cover up for him, which wasn’t 
a terrible thing, but it just wasn’t right. We had 
a few words, and he was ready to move on; 
so we parted friends—you know, we’ve been 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


friends, and we were friends the next day. In 
fact, we didn’t even raise our voices; it was just 
we both agreed that it was time to leave. And 
he was a super guy in the casino. 

I had a lot of faith in Wayne, but I had 
as much or more in Warren. Warren was in 
that pit, I didn’t care—Eddie Sahati, anybody, 
could be playin’; it didn’t bother me a bit ’cause 
Warren knew everything that needed to be 
known. And he kept up; there’s new things— 
although even today there’s new angles, and 
we have to really watch it. But Warren—some 
people would just stay; I’m sure you’ve seen 
those kind of people, like they couldn’t learn 
anything new, and Warren was always looking 
for something. 

Did you have any others like that in those early 

Oh, yeah, we had a whole bunch of ’em 
and there was one fellow—was a super guy. 
Billy Panelli. He was our Faro Bank guy. 

He was an old family guy. And he was 
Italian, but his face looked—his eyes had a 
little slant; he looked almost Oriental. And 
he was “Joe Deadpan;” he never smiled. Oh, 
once if Panelli smiled, why, everyone—”Hey, 
look at Panelli! Somethin’ really must’ve 
happened!” He’d smile once a year, you know. 
And he kinda liked being that way. He liked 
to sit at the Faro Bank, you know, and just—. 
And he knew an awful lot. And he worked at 
the Bank Club on the Faro Bank, and he was 
super. I used to watch the game a lot, and he 
was—I liked him. 

And then Warren Nelson liked Faro; so 
we put in Faro, and I think we had Panelli 
running it. And there he was one of the 
top dealers—I guess Warren ran it and 
Panelli worked there. But Panelli knew Faro 
backwards and forwards. Then when Warren 
left, Panelli ran it, and he ran it for years for 

us. And it never made much money; there’s 
a lot of problems with Faro Bank. 

Then later when we finally got rid of Faro 
Bank (much against Panelli s wishes) , he 
worked for us as a boss, as a pit boss. And 
he was super. So he finally—I think he got 
sick somehow. We sure didn’t fire him, but I 
think he just got kinda old and sick. He used 
to come around. His son is still around—Billy 
Panelli, Junior. I don’t know him by sight, but 
once or twice a year somebody’ll come up and 
say, “I’m Billy Panelli, Jr.” He’s a go go go—he’s 
doin’ somethin’ here in town very successfully. 
He may work in the casino, or he may be in 
real estate or somethin’. 

Billy Panelli was a super—he was a 
character. If you were casting a movie, why, 
you’d want a Warren Nelson and you’d want 
a Billy Panelli and all. 

That Faro Bank was quite a bit of fun. 
See, the percentage on it is so low, you know, 
that there aren’t any in northern Nevada any 
more. There’s one or two in southern Nevada. 
You go down and then they won’t be there, 
and then the next time you go, they are there, 
course that’s one game where there’s certain 
bets—there’s no percentage at all, against case 
card in a Faro Bank—why, that’s an absolutely 
even bet. So that then you have quite a bit 
of expense running the game, so you have 
to have a lot of big bets to carry it. It just 

Rome Andreotti likes Faro Bank just for 
the romance of the game, and I like it and 
all. We got where we could handle it, where 
we could make a couple of dollars with it. 
And it’s quite an attraction; there’s a Faro 
Bank game. But one thing you can’t argue 
against—like a Faro Bank’ll take a hundred 
square feet or something, at least, maybe 
more. And in the hundred square feet you 
could put in maybe twenty slot machines, and 
the twenty slot machines’ll make ten times 


William F. Harrah 

what the Faro Bank will make, or even more. 
So it’s just almost indefensible, except for the 
atmosphere. There’s some atmosphere there, 
but it’s hard—the bottom line, the end of the 
year and all where the Faro Bank made twelve 
thousand dollars, and the twenty slot machines 
made a hundred and forty thousand, why, you 
just can t even think about it any more. 

We can try it later. I am kinda glad you 
reminded me. We might think about that. I’ll 
talk to Rome—puttin’ one in—like at Tahoe, 
we have a lot of room now, and we can maybe 
put one up on the second level or somethin’ 
and advertise it. That might be a good idea— 
give it a try. I don’t know if there’s any players 
around any more, though. But it’s the simplest 
game in the world to play. 

All the cards are laid out on the table in 
there. Denomination doesn’t matter—the 
spades, hearts, you know—just it’s an ace or 
a king, so there’s thirteen cards— [motioning 
a stack of cards] ace, two, three, four, five, six, 
seven, eight. And there’s two cards in the box, 
and like when an ace comes up, like you—the 
card up here (that’s a dead card ’cause it’s 
played) and the card here—this is the losing 
card. And the next card’s the winning card, 
so you—like you would take this card—or 
that’s a dead card—you take this—the game’s 
being played now. So this card is a king, so it 
goes down here; and there’s an ace left. The 
king’s the loser; the ace is the winner. It’s so 
simple—every card either wins or loses. You 
can bet the card either way. You bet the ace to 
win, or you bet the ace to lose, So if I bet the 
ace to win and the ace wins, I win. I bet the ace 
to win, the ace loses, I lose. It I bet the king to 
lose and it loses, I win. So it’s so simple—it’s 
just really good. And it’s so easy to play. 

When I said about the even bet—like they’d 
come out ace-ace, so it wins and loses, why, you 
lose half your bet; if you bet the ace, you lose half 

your bet. Or they’ll put it on and make you win 
it again, so you have to win it twice—which 
is the same as losin’ halt. 

But when you get the case ace or the case 
king, that means the last one. And they keep 
track of’em. Like every time there’s four aces, 
of course, or every time an ace plays, they have 
a little guy keep score and he marks the ace. So 
when there’s three buttons gone, there’s only 
one button left, that means there’s one ace in 
the deck left; so the ace either has to win or 
has to lose—no other way. So that makes an 
absolutely even bet. So that’s when they’ll bet 
maybe a couple of chips. And then till the last 
card or the last few cards, and then towards 
an even bet, then they would bet quite a bit. 
But as it is an even bet, why, the house had 
no percentage, so it was a tough game. But it 
was a game you could win quite a bit at, too. 
And it’s so colorful—you know—you see all 
the old Virginia City—over at the Faro Bank 
game, you know. 

I had a funny experience, too; and that 
was—oh, that’s how I got to meet Billy Panelli. 
That’s a real interesting story. 

When we closed our Bingo game when 
we first came up here— just the first year or 
two—we’d go hang around the Bank Club and 
the Palace Club. And we’d go back and forth; 
we liked the Bank, and we liked the Palace, 
and I finally got where I liked the Palace a little 

So I was in the Palace Club One morning 
watchin’ the Faro Bank game, and one of the 
bets I liked was the ace to win. So there was a 
case ace. So I reached over and I put a dollar 
(yeah, a dollar) on the ace to win. And you 
could have chips, or you could bet money; 
and I put a silver dollar on the ace to win. 
So the ace won. So I thought, “Hm, dollar!” 
So I reached over for my dollar, and a fella 
here reached over and grabbed my dollar. 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


And I thought, “Oh nuts! I’m gonna have an 

So then a fella over here said to this fella, 
“You stole my dollar, you son of a bitch!” 

And the other guy said, “The hell I did— 
that’s my bet!” 

The guy said, “No, that’s my bet.” 

So this fella hit this fella, and they knocked 
each other down; and the bouncers had to 
come—separate ’em—and I’m standin’ there 
like this [hands spread], I went—you know 
And Panelli’s up in the—they had a chair— 
lookout chair, they called it—and Panelli’s 
sittin’ in the chair—and I told you he was a 
sourpuss, but he’s laughin’! And I looked at 
him, and he’s laughin’ and he’s lookin’ at me. 
Then he said, “It’s your bet, you know. I saw 
it.” He says, “It’s your bet.” 

And so he paid me, you know, and he gave 
me the dollar. And I said, “Gee, thank you, 
Mr. (whatever).” 

And he laughed. He said, “I’ve watched 
Faro a long time.” He said, “That’s the first 
time,” he said, “I’ve seen two guys get in an 
argument, and not one—neither one of ’em 
had the—.” They were both kinda drunk 

But I felt so left out, you know. So first I 
thought, “I’m gonna have an argument.” And 
then in a second I thought, “Well, how you 
gonna—how do I explain—hey, that’s really 
my dollar,” you know, when here’s two guys 
[laughing]—! But Panelli saw it. But gee, that 
was part of the expense of runnin’ a Faro 
Bank—was that you had a lookout all the time 
because you could phony-baloney pretty good 
in it, ’cause there was a lot of money changing 

But then finally we became friends, and 
then when we opened, why, he was happy 
’cause he didn’t really like the way they were 
runnin or somethin’, course, he’d never really 

liked the way anybody was runnin’, and he 
didn’t like the way we ran it, exactly. But he 
was a good old guy—Billy Panelli. (See, I 
hadn’t thought of him in years. This is kinda 
fun thinkin’ of people like that.) 

Regulation, Taxes, and Law 

You’d been talking about the opening on 
Virginia Street. Do you want to talk about the 
changes in regulatory practices that came in just 
about the same time? Up until 1945, whatever 
regulation was done on gaming was at the 
local level, and then in 1945 the Legislature 
gave that licensing to the tax Commission. Did 
you like state regulation, dislike it, not pay any 
attention to it? 

Well, we resented it a little like any 
new regulation. Like today, anyone, there’s 
somethin’ new all the time. But in those days 
we looked at it, and we were in favor of—or 
at least I was in favor of it, ’cause I’d traveled 
around the state so much, and I knew that 
there had been and were crooked places in 
Reno, and there were crooked places all over 
the state. And I thought this regulatory body 
would hopefully turn things around. But I was 
very—I was opposed to them always—and 
the reason, not only because I’m an honest 
person, but I enjoyed my business or career, 
and I wanted it to go forever. I knew that if 
it was not handled properly that it could be 
possibly voted out in those days. I think they 
even had polls in those days that showed 
that by far the majority of the state wanted 
gambling. But still it was an uneasy feeling 
when someone would get cheated out of 
their chunk of money and would go home 
to Chicago or New York, or wherever, or San 
Francisco, and really knock the state. And 


William F. Harrah 

there were more than one of those, and it was 
very uncomfortable. So the state control was 
a real good thing, of course. 

Then when the taxes came along, that was 
fine, up to a point. And of course, we’ll say 
that taxes are plenty high, which of course, 
someone not in the casino business would say, 
“Oh ho ho, he’s just sayin’ that.” But anyone 
resents taxes. But when it is on the gross, it’s 
a terrible tax ’cause you can be losing money; 
and we’ve lost money—a lot of money— day 
after day—and still have to pay a terrible tax 
on it. 

Unfortunately, there was the last raise, I 
think from six and a half to somethin’ else. 
And the state didn’t really need the money at 
the time; I think it was a political gesture. And 
maybe there had been one year where it was 
down a little bit; the state absolutely didn’t owe 
anything, and was in fine shape. And I argued 
much against it, and some of my fellas said, 
“Well, it’s only a halt of a percent—so what?” 

And I said, “Well, that’s millions of dollars 
a year, and the state doesn’t need it.” 

And “No, they don’t need it.” 

And I said, “Well, just another year and 
the state’ll have so much money they won’t 
know what to do with it.” 

Well, anyway, it went in. So then I think 
I asked Shep or whoever was close to it, 
“Okay, it’s six and a half—” and the state had 
just money runnin’ out of the (or seven—I 
don’t know what it is) runnin’ out of their 
treasury—and I said, “How about lowerin’ it?” 

And “Lower it? Whoever heard of such 
a thing?” And right today they—I don’t 
know—ninety million dollars, or whatever. 
Everything’s paid for, and still there’s not a 
word about new casinos coming on stream 
every day now. And there’s gonna be an awful 
lot of money, and still it’s—which disappoints 
me a lot. And it’s not really money out of my 
pocket ’cause I—I mean it’s money out of the 

company, but really it’s not make or break, 
we’re doin’ wonderful. But it disappoints me 
that the state, which is so straight—and that 
to me is something that California would 
pull or New York or somewhere, ’cause it’s 
not fair. They don’t need the money, and they 
should—sure, when they need the money, 
it can go up; and when they don’t need the 
money, or as much money, should go down. 
It’s disappointing. 

You were just beginning to become a big 
operation when that first licensing and 
regulation started to come. Did you have 
contacts with the state license agents ? What 
kind of contacts did you have? 

Oh, it wasn’t unpleasant; it was just 
another government body. But we could see 
the need for it; and of course, we were clean. 
We may have had some problems, but they 
couldn’t’ve been very big, ’cause I don’t recall 
any; it was just—. Of course, by then I was a 
little away from the floor, but it was no big 
change at all, at least in our operation, or in 
my life; it was fine. Of course, it gave gambling 
a better name, nationally and publicity-wise, 
and so on. The time had come; it was about 
right, I’d say. 

7 he table tax distribution came in ’57, when 
they decided they were going to get that out 
into the state. Did you have anything to do 
with that? 

Oh, yeah, we were aware of it. And I 
think we supported that because it gave each 
county something, and we felt that of course 
Washoe County and Douglas County would 
be for gambling forever; but some of the little 
counties that weren’t getting much would 
say, “Well, so what?” “What difference does 
it make?” or “We’re in cattle,” and so on. And 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


we thought—and honestly, I still think—that 
those old-timers there would have voted for 
gambling. But, why not give ’em—and it’s 
quite a bit of money to some of those little 
counties, and it didn’t hurt anybody, and it 
was a very smart move, we thought. Made a 
big difference in some of those counties. 

Did you personally get involved with that? 

Oh, no, I was never personally involved 
in anything like that; but I was, you know— 
talked to them. 

What instructions did you give to your 

Well, just mainly—” Yes, we’re for that. Of 
course.” And I don’t know who we talked to 
or anything like that. Yeah, we liked that very 
much. Gave everybody a piece of the pie, yeah. 

Your people were quite active in another of 
the big changes, and that was on the slot tax 

Well, we worked at it. It just makes so 
much sense for us—you know. Well, it just 
doesn’t need discussing ’cause all that money 
goin to the federal when the state can have 
it, why, why not? It was just a dumb tax to 
start with. It was an old antigambling tax 
that we inherited, and it wasn’t fair in this 
state; it was fair in others—well, it wasn’t 
fair in other states. The same old story, when 
they couldn’t do it direct, then they went 
through the back door, did it by taxation. But 
the way gambling’s spreading now, I think 
those dangers are gone for the foreseeable 
future, about gambling being outlawed. Our 
whole thing is being taxed out of existence. 
It’s not only the gambling business, but the 
automobile business and the hamburger 
business, whatever. 

As a major taxpayer, how does the Nevada 
budget surplus affect your thinking about taxes 
in this state? 

Well, I believe in it a little but—. Yeah, I 
think a state should be run like, well, maybe 
a household, that you should have your bills 
paid and an income—adequate. But I don’t 
believe—well, a household’s a bum example. 
There’s something I’m trying to compare it 
with. But I know I don’t believe in a zillion- 
dollar surplus that—. So gambling is voted 
out and all that’s cut out, which is a million- 
to-one shot. And so then the state has to run 
for twenty years, and the schools and the 
colleges and so on and universities isn’t cut 
a dime, while we live the way we have, you 
know—that’s dumb. And if gambling went 
out, why, that’s a new ball game; we gotta take 
a whole new look at things. Well, to answer, 
no—I don’t believe in a—no, of course not. 

Taxes shouldn’t be, you know—. You 
know, the purpose of tax—I will spell ’em out, 
but I don’t think I do too good a job with it; 
the purpose of taxes is, well, the government 
is the organization of the citizens, and that’s 
for safety, primarily, and—well, I’d almost say 
safety, ’cause protection against being invaded 
and protection against fires and that sort of 
thing, just protection. And that should be it! 
And of course, federal and many states now go 
on and on—welfare [gesture-spiral] cradle-to- 
grave security—then that isn’t what it was all 
about at all. It should be the least government 
is the best government. 

[It’s] so funny—we see so much of that in 
our little Stanley and all up there. Well, like 
Stanley is incorporated, and we want it so 
[laughing], selfishly, because you can’t have a 
bar license in Idaho unless in an incorporated 
city. But like our Middle Fork Lodge is in the 
county; there’s no city there, of course. So we 
just have fewer officials; even little Stanley 


William F. Harrah 

has—you’ve got the county officials, then 
you ye got the city officials, and the—. And, 
of course, in Middle Fork we only have the 
county, and there’s only three or four of them, 
so [chuckling] it’s pretty nice! And, of course, 
you know ’em all; life is different; you know 
’em on a first name basis. They apologize when 
they appraise your property [chuckles]. 

But you get in the bigger cities—course, 
there aren’t too many in Idaho, but bigger it 
gets, the worse it gets. The trouble with the 
world and the country is people. Just cut the 
people out of it, and everything’d be fine. 
Animals are fine; it’s the darn people. 

Do you know anything about the IRS audits of 
your employees on the tokeproblem? 

Hm. I don’t know more than what you 
know. They were after ’em, of course, and 
that’s—I don’t know the answer to that, really. 
It would be nice if they were tax-free, but 
I don’t think the law is that way, and some 
people are gonna pay it and some aren’t. 
That’s the Internal Revenue’s problem, and to 
arbitrarily assess, I think that’s wrong. I don’t 
know the answer to it. but that’s a worldwide 
problem; it isn’t only Nevada. And primarily 
those waiter and waitress, and, where they get 
tips, is how do they handle it. 

And this thing in California [ Jarvis-Gann] 
is crazy, but it’s a good thing. Like Jerry Brown. 
I don’t know if you’ve followed his career. He 
was really a smarty, you know, and probably 
rightfully so. If my father’d been governor of 
California and I was raised in the mansion 
and then I got a runnin’ jump and got to be 
governor in my thirties, I’d probably be a little 
cocky, too. But he was so cocky, and then to 
hear him today—’’What are you gonna do, 

“Well, we’re going to live with it; we’re 
going to—” this, that, and the other, and, “cut 

back,” and so-and-so and so-and-so. And it 
was usin’ a sledgehammer to kill a fly, but I 
think it’s a good thing for the country, really, 
to get the politicians to realize that it’s not a 
bottomless thing. 

Statewide and nationally, if we could 
ever get that— that’s my biggest worry is the 
unbalanced budget, and goin’ up sixty to a 
hundred billion a year, and no one seems to 
care. And I’ve asked everyone I know, whose 
opinion I value, and I can’t get an answer. 
“What’s gonna happen?” And they just 
kinda avoid it. Someday—I mean the way I 
was brought up, two and two is four—she’s 
gonna blow. And when she blows, it’s gonna 
be the biggest mess ever, nothin’ll be worth 
anything, or money won’t (that’s for sure). 
Maybe gold will be worth something, real 
estate, of course, but our financial and our 
insurance companies and our banks—woo! 
Nobody seems to care; that really worries 
me. I mean, I can still put it out of my head; 
I’ll sleep fine tonight. But I think about that 
and, oh, not daily, but whenever I’m talkin’ 
like I am now. And I make speeches for it, for 
what they’re worth. That unbalanced budget 
is absolutely crazy. And now they’re talkin’ 
like Carter was—and you know, it’s easy to sit 
on the outside, and there are so many built-in 
expenses that they can’t control; but he was big 
hero at the end of four years, hoping to balance 
the budget. It should be balanced every year; 
plus we should be payin’ back! I’d like to see 
it balanced and paid back fifty to a hundred a 
year for twenty or thirty years, and really, you 
know— “Hey, the budget deficit is sixty-eight 
billion”—wouldn’t that be wonderful? And it’s 
fifty billion and it’s forty-two billion, instead of 
seven hun—no, we have to raise it to five, six, 
seven—. And pretty soon there’ll be a trillion 
[whistles]!And nobody cares—well, I’m sure 
other people—I’m sure I’m not the only one. 
I’m sure there’s a lot of uneasy people. 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


So much, it seems, of the whole gaining scene 
in Nevada has depended a lot—at least in 
northern Nevada—on how you felt about it, 
or what you supported, or what you designed. 
The laws, even, have depended on the testimony 
from your organization. 

Well, that’s true, and it’s very flattering, 
too. Also I think it—. Well, I think it’s quite 
proper to—I agree with it [laughing]. 

Well, it is true, and our organization did 
it. A lot of that I wasn’t in at all, but I guess I 
started it with the way the departments that 
I’m interested in—why, do it right; do it the 
way it should be done. And then set policies 
for the next guy, and he quits or gets killed; 
and so you don’t start all over again, that what 
you’ve got to this point, that you’ve kept. These 
policies are so wonderful. And spell ’em out. 
And there’s the book, and read the book! 
And we put a fella in a new job, and here 
you give him—it’s really not too tough being 
a supervisor, and executive at Harrah’s, you 
know, if you have common sense. And you 
get in your job, and here’s the book. It just 
tells you—and there’s hardly anything that’ll 
come up that isn’t in the book somewhere, 
if you really read the book. And then there’s 
somethin’—no answer, then there’s someone 
you can ask. So we tell ’em, “Read the damn 
book!” And of course, a lot of work goes into 

But those books are not published or anything —. 

Oh, no. 

Those are just quietly company documents, 
aren’t they? 

Yeah, yeah. Well, it’s no secret that we have 
it. They were doin’ a story here recently—or 
it didn’t jell; it was a life story, and so-and-so. 

And then the reporter was intrigued with a 
number of procedures we have. I think there 
were either forty or seventy, and he wanted 
a picture of me with all the procedures and 
books, where I could hardly see over it. And 
you know, I’ve had enough of that; I thought, 
I’ll speak up, and I said, “Well, that’s dumb! 
That isn’t what I do. You want a picture 
of me, and,” you know, “take a picture in 
the showroom or at my desk or at the car 
collection or—I occasionally walkthrough the 
casino. But,” I said, “those procedures— I’ve 
never seen them. I know they’re there.” 

No, no that’s what he wanted. And so they 
had me over takin’ a picture for a day and a 
half, you know. I’m lookin’ over ’em like this, 
and I’m lookin’ like this, you know. And you 
do it—you don’t argue—you just do it. And 
they killed the story, and Mark Curtis was 
very disappointed, and I said, “Well, I don’t 
blame them. That’s a dumb story!” Well, they 
finally ran a little squib, and they didn’t use the 
picture, fortunately. But that’s the only time I 
ever saw the procedures, but they do exist. 

But they were undoubtedly written at your 

Well, I mean yeah, they evolved. 

Another of the things that happened during 
this period that has fascinated me, and its 
widespread effect, was the disappearance of 
the silver dollar. Remember Eva Adams made 
a speech to the Mining Congress. 

Yeah, where they disappeared overnight, 

Would you describe that? 

Well, Eva, yeah. Yeah, I know her, and 
she’s okay. But I always kinda thought she 
was overrated, but maybe I’m wrong. When 


William F. Harrah 

she made that statement—and it did—people 
just grabbed ’em. And then we immediately 
went to work, and wed already been working 
on some— cause it was getting tight—some 
tokens. But it sure touched it off—just—I don’t 
remember exact details, but someone would; 
but I know it was really quite a thing. 

What did you do? Were there conferences 
about, “Well, we’ll have to get some tokens, or 
what a dumb thing that was that she did.” 

Oh, yeah, of course, it was dumb. No, 
I think we were ahead of that; I think we’d 
already planned our tokens. And that’s quite 
an elaborate thing, like our chips and our 
games. And they have to be designed properly 
and manufactured, and then you try ’em out 
and—. Just making chips for the game is a 
tremendous thing, to do it right. And so, of 
course, these fit into that, so we had been 
planning on it. Then we had decided on the 
size and all, and it was a size that wouldn’t 
go into a dollar machine. Well, it was very 
studied, yeah. 

Did you get involved in that? 

No, we had meetings on it, I remember, 
and you know, they’d bring it up to us. “Well, 
here’s where we are, and here’s the sizes, and 
here’s the colors,” and here’s so-and-so. Yeah, 
we talked to [the Franklin Mint people] —had 
meetings with them. Yeah, we spent a lot of 
time with them—on what at the time we felt 
was quite a major problem, but [it] turned out 
it wasn’t. It worked out okay. 

And of course, they came along with the 
phony silver. By then, people were educated 
to dollars, and I don’t think the phonies 
come back. I know I don’t use ’em. And I did 
before. I always carried two silver dollars in 
my pocket for one reason. Well, I’ve always 

done it, so that’s maybe a good-luck thing with 
me, but sometimes you want to give a tip real 
fast for a doorman, in your car, or the ladies’ 
room or something, and that you can reach 
like that [claps]. But prior to the [shortage], I 
never had a paper dollar in my pocket, ever. 
It was always silver. And now I carry paper 

Well, I have a silver dollar story you 
might like. I’ve been a race car enthusiast 
for years, and I’d never been to Indianapolis. 
And I always wanted to go, so in 1947 or ’8 
I went. I decided I was goin’ to Indianapolis. 
So we went back there—another couple and 
my girlfriend and I. We got to Indianapolis, 
and we stayed at an old hotel there, and we 
maneuvered around, and we got some tickets 
(which wasn’t really too hard) , and we got 
acquainted. We were there a few days before 
the race, and it was very exciting to—you 
know, your first time in Indianapolis, wow! 

We took about maybe a pocket full of 
silver dollars with us—twenty or thirty 
or something, and we got there, and we 
discovered they were a big hit. No matter 
where you went, if you spent the silver dollars 
or tipped with ’em, it was a big thing. They had 
all colored help in the hotel, and they would 
just come around, and, you know, “Can we 
get some of those dollars?” And they’d do 
anything for them. So we saw what a hit they 
were, that we called Reno and had ’em send 
us airmail special a couple of hundred more 
silver dollars just ’cause we’d go in a restaurant 
and give ’em—and you know, the waitress is 
just delighted that she got—that was fun! So 
we had ’em. 

So anyway, the day before the race I went 
down to the barber shop to get a haircut in 
the hotel. And I’m sitting there—of course, 
I’m a real race car and driver enthusiast. And 
I’d read—pictures—I read all about ’em, and 
I knew, you know—I know!—I’m like a little 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


kid, and—. I went in and I had my hair cut, 
and I paid for it in silver dollars. “Oh-ho! 
Look at the silver dollars!” And I tipped them 
and paid my check in silver dollars. And as I 
walked out, Maury Rose walked in, who was 
a race driver. And so I looked—”Oh! Gee, 
there’s Maury Rose!” You know, I’m not the 
kind that would go up or, you know—I just 
looked and admired. And he was a slender, 
very dapper little man, and I admired—he 
was a good driver, I knew. 

So anyway, the race came along, and this 
guy’s in front and that guys s in front; and 
there’s two cars that are owned by the same 
owner, and they’re One and Two. So finally 
at the last minute Maury Rose won the race. 
Now, pictures and Gasoline Alley, and on and 
on, and the newspapers like this and that. And 
the next day I’m reading the newspaper, and 
“Mr. Rose, when did you think—” he’d been in 
the race many times and never gotten tenth, I 
don’t believe—bad luck, you know. They said, 
“Well, when did you first have an inkling that 
this might be your year?” 

And he said, “Well, it was just another 
year. We had good cars, but we’ve always 
had good cars,” this and that, and said, “You 
know?” He said, “The day before yesterday,” 
he said, “I needed a haircut,” and he said, “I 
went in the barber shop, and when I came 
out, I paid for my haircut, and the man gave 
me a silver dollar in change.” And he said, 
“I thought that that silver dollar might be 
lucky—.” So he said, “I carried it with me in 
the race.” 

And I thought, “That’s my [beats chest] —!” 
[Laughs] And I was so proud of that! I never 
got to meet him. Yeah, he’s still alive. Someday 
I’m gonna—. I’ve told that story before; he’s 
probably heard it by now. You know, nobody 
else was puttin’ out silver dollars, so it must 
have been mine that he got; so of course, that’s 
how he won the race. 

The Black Book came in about 1961 as part of 
the state regulations. Did you have any reaction 
to that? 

Oh, yeah, we were just as strong as we 
could be all along for keepin the bad guys 
out. And there were many instances where 
bad guys kinda got licenses. And that’s why 
it was so good when it went state, because 
citywide there was really no control in your 
little city council, wherever they might be. 
Who was a friend of who? That was a bad, bad 
scene. I mean it could’ve been much worse. 
I think we were very lucky to get by the way 
we did. When it went statewide and then their 
regulations and then the Black Book and—put 
their name in the book. And they come in, 
throw ’em out; tell ’em to get the hell out of 
the state. I mean we got somethin’ goin’ for us 
here that’s just wonderful, and why let some 
phonies mess it up? I couldn’t be stronger on 

I think the Black Book was—well, of 
course, that might’ve been the newspapers 
or something, was maybe not handled 
properly, but I believe in a list of known bad 
people you don’t want around the gaming 
industry—nothin wrong with that at all. Sure, 
you could have that in the aircraft industry or 
the automobile industry or whatever. Or stock 
market—they have a lot of stuff goin’, or your 
phony-baloney—why, you sure as hell can’t 
be a dealer in the stock market. So we’re for 
that a hundred percent. 

Your feelings about the state regulators seem to 
be so positive. How do you feel about the Feds 
when they come in to do an investigation? 

Oh, generally, they’re bad news. Where it’s 
proper—and there are, you know, the FBI or 
whatever, and they’re lookin’ for a Dillinger 
or something, why, more power to them. But 


William F. Harrah 

where they try to get in gaming through the 
back door or something, why, that’s bad news. 
Of course, we fight that. National regulation 
could be disaster or just—well, maybe not 
disaster, but as it is today in any business 
that has to deal with the federal government, 
so many times there’s so many forms and 
so many rules, and so many of which are 
unnecessary. Like OSHA is a good example 
of meddling. It just so complicates things and 
makes life more difficult for no reason, or 
for very little reason, and usually the results 
don’t justify the means—or many times they 
don’t justify the means. And it just gives a 
job to some little bureaucrats who love to 
throw their weight around. That OSHA, I’m 
sure you’re familiar with that. That’s a good 
example of where the federal government 
intrusion is just costly and time consuming 
and doesn’t really accomplish ten percent of 
anything—just bad news. 

OSHA is a fairly recent kind of thing. I was 
wondering about the FBI and the IRS in 
this earlier period before about 1971. I just 
wondered if any of your operations had been 
the subject of some kind of investigation or 
surveillance from one of these agencies that 
you might like to describe. 

Internal Revenue depends entirely or 
generally on the individual. And some are real 
straight; there’s a lot of high-quality people in 
the Internal Revenue that I’ve met that just go 
by the book and go along. And then there’s 
some that resent you because you re successful 
and have more money than they have and 
just look for somethin’ to find wrong. And 
we keep our books as straight as anybody in 
the world. And they come in and they can’t 
find somethin’; they’re disappointed in some 
cases. But I wouldn’t—no blanket either way; 
there’re some good ones and some bad ones. 

Lookin’ at it from the Internal Revenue’s part, 
I think they do an excellent job considerin’ 
what they’re doing, which isn’t popular, 
and then the type of people that have to do 
their work, which have to be oh, financial, 
bookkeeping type of people, and many times 
they can make more in private business. So to 
get the quality they need in Internal Revenue 
is just really a thankless task, I think. 

In fact, I think it’s a bum way of raising 
taxes. I think if they cut out all the exemptions 
and all that and just had a less figure—and of 
course, it would be a happy day when they 
get the budget balanced and get an intelligent 
budget for the country to live in, and quit 
tryin’ to do good for the whole world and 
all the people that don’t want to work. But 
then have just a general, overall tax, and 
leave out the deductions and that’s it, and so 
much percent of everything, which is very 
difficult because so-and-so has to have an 
exemption, and so-and-so and so-and-so 
and so-and-so and—. And then it goes on 
and on; it’s so complicated. If it just could 
be a straight six percent or something of 
your income, and that’s it. And it would be 
so easy to enforce, and normal. But I think 
it’s the way the country—anything simple, 
they don’t want, you know. Or many people 
don’t, your bureaucrats don’t want it simple; 
they want millions of people workin’ for the 
government and makin’ the life of the other 
people uncomfortable. It’s just a fact of life 
these days. I wish I knew the answer to it, 

Have you ever observed any of the so- 
called skimming investigations, or known 
about some kind of skimming going on?] 

Oh, yeah, I knew that in Vegas in the 
old days and in Reno a little and Tahoe a 
little, that there were some operators that 
did skim (or whatever the word is) because 
it was common practice in the old days in 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


Vegas to—some stars would get so much in 
a check, and so much under the table. They 
had a big investigation about that a couple 
of years ago down there. And I was pleased 
that some of the stars I knew didn’t get in 
trouble, or if they did, you know, they didn’t 
have to go to jail. And then we had some stars 
that asked us—which we never did. And I’m 
sure glad we never did; you know, that isn’t 
it. The money is ten thousand, there’s a ten 
thousand. We got a few, you know; but I don’t 
think we ever lost anybody because of it, 
but maybe they grumbled a little bit. I think 
those days are gone now; I don’t think that’s 
done any more, at least not to my knowledge. 
But that was mostly Vegas, but a little up 

Can you think of any that you observed, 

Oh, yeah, I never saw it, but I knew of stars 
that would work for—well, Mert Wertheimer 
was one. He’d bawl me out (I thought I 
mentioned that to you). 

I was thinking about the, take it off the top 
before you count it for tax purposes kind of 

Oh, well, that’s where he got the money 
that he paid the star. He took it off the top 
before he counted it. 

And you know, those type of people 
always have the separate bankroll that’s not 
counted, for politicians, for whatever, and 
just, you know, in the hip pocket sort of 
thing. Well, that’s what that is. Yeah, Mert 
liked to do that. And others—and I know a 
few—I’d rather not mention them now ’cause 
most of’em are reformed—or all of’em that 
I know now. I mean we never hear of it any 

The state people keep them pretty straight 
anyway, don’t they? 

Yeah, but it still could be done, but I don’t 
think it is. I think they just pay it, which 
they weren’t really savin’ any money anyway, 
really. And the stars will work without it. I 
think maybe they thought they wouldn’t work 
otherwise, or something. Of course, they will. 

I think it’s interesting to know that Harrah’s has 
been kind of a model that various agencies have 
built their enforcement standards on. 

So statewide, well, we’ve just always had or 
always tried to have an excellent accounting 
system and streamline—zingety, zingety, zing. 
And it’s been written many times, and I still 
insist on it. Well, I don’t have to insist on it any 
more; it just—put on my desk at eleven o’clock 
every morning. Of course, all top people in 
management, on their desk at eleven o’clock, 
we have everything about yesterday, just the 
money, the so and so, the number of people 
in the Cabaret and the show, and every little 
detail on the lady tripped on the way out of 
the Cabaret and so and so; it’s all in a report 
and it’s on our desk. Plus how much money 
we took in and the winners— big winners, 
big losers, so on and so-and-so. We’re right 
on top all the time. And our accounting, 
which I know nothing about and don’t want 
to know about [laughing], is—it’s really 
excellent. The way it got excellent is—I don’t 
know really who’s responsible for that except 
we in top management want it right and 
want it simple. You know, we don’t want to 
have the most beautiful set of books in the 
world just because we have the most; we 
want it realistic. In other words, the purpose 
of books is—legally, of course, you have to 
keep records and pay taxes, and otherwise, 
further the information you want. And of 


William F. Harrah 

course, when computers came along, of 
course, that made a new ball game out of it. 
And I don’t understand computers either, and 
I don’t really want to, except as a tool, they’re 
just wonderful, and the information—. Well, 
we had one problem with computers; our 
biggest problem, they were getting a lot of 
information that we didn’t want and couldn’t 
use. course, the programmers, they always 
want to put somethin’ new in, and we were 
getting information that was just absolutely 
useless, just statistics runnin’ out of your ears 
that had nothin’ to do with, you know, how 
many people were gonna see the show or 
anything like that. It was just numbers and 

So statewide, it’s not too bad. And 
federally, the income tax is—we pay our taxes, 
of course, and we take all the deductions we 
can. And there are several types of Internal 
Revenue agents in my opinion, and that’s good 
and bad—I guess just two kinds. And we had 
some—. Of course, they check us every year 
when you get as big as we are, not because 
we’re crooks, but just because of our size, 
we’re checked every year. And I’ve had some 
that are just absolutely miserable; you want to 
hit ’em in the nose. And you’re a crook, and 
they are insulting, and so on. And we’ve had 
some that were just super, that we actually 
got to be friends. One little fella (and I can 
dig up his name if it’s important) that—he got 
transferred away, and here and there, and he’s 
from the Bay Area. And when he’s in town 
sometimes, the gal’ll say, “Hey, So-and-so’s 
out here.” 

And, “Send him in,” and come in, and, 
“Hi, how’re you doing?” you know, ’cause 
he was intrigued with how interesting our 
business was, and so on and so on. 

And when the government had it coining 
he said, “Hey, we get this.” And when they 

didn’t really, or when there was a question, 
then he wasn’t—you know. 

So many of ’em—and it seems to be 
getting worse—will just demand everything. 
And maybe I shouldn’t say that, generally, 
because—but there are some that are just 
terrible. And we had one fella here (I forget his 
name), just got transferred out, that was really 
mad about the car collection, and that bugged 
the heck out of him. He actually assessed 
me one time personally. And I think we had 
eleven hundred cars, and the deductions 
and all on it, so he assessed me three million 
dollars one year, ’cause the cars were personal 
and not company. And my answer to that 
was, “How can I drive eleven hundred cars?” 
you know, just it’s ridiculous on the face of it. 
But he made that claim. Of course, we got it 
thrown out. 

But that’s about all as far as Internal 
Revenue’s concerned—I mean some are good, 
some are bad; you gotta live with them and 
fight ’em. 

How about the justice department, the FBI 
and so forth? 

Oh, they’re wonderful, super. The FBI— 
the local, and well, all that we’ve ever run into 
were just the local, but they’re the national, of 
course. It’s usually when there’s a bomb thing 
or something, but my association with them 
has just been—couldn’t be any better. And 
then as far as the company’s concerned, I just 
say a hundred percent, just straight down, just 

This is so different from what you hear 
about Las Vegas. IRS or FBI agents just 
marching into one or more of the casinos. It’s 
the kind of thing that you don’t hear about 
here kinda confusing, but I guess mostly 
bomb threats—that they call, and, “There’s 
four bombs planted in Harrah’s, and if we 
don’t have four hundred thousand dollars 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


three miles from Stateline by nine o’clock 
Thursday, why, we’re gonna”—they’re gonna 
explode ’em. And then we’d call, and they’d 
work real good. And we’d have a contact, 
and some of ’em, we’d actually go down and 
plant the money or whatever—we’d follow 
their advice, of course. I think one case or 
another, where we’ve actually left the money, 
and the others, why, we just left dummies. But, 
of course, they know, and they can tell; they 
can read it and say, “Oh, this is a so-and-so 
type,” and they’re usually right. But we’ve had, 
well, three or four of those, that were serious 
enough so we called—well, we always called 
an FBI. 

But the kidnapping, no, not really. There’ve 
been threats, but just it’s usually a phone call. 
And I think ninety-nine percent of those, a 
bunch of people are drunk somewhere, and 
so, “I’ll call up Harrah’s, and scare the hell out 
of ’em,” and get on, you know, somethin’ like 
that. It’s never been that, but a lot of bomb 
threats. But they’ve fallen off lately for some 

How about the federal and state tax structures — 
are they fair? 

Oh, well, I don’t think so, no, not at all. 
Well, I shouldn’t say not at all, but statewide 
the gambling tax is city, county, and state, 
which is okay; that’s all right. But the state is 
on the gross, which is not fair ’cause you can 
be losin money and payin’ a terrible tax, and 
that’s not right. And that got in there, and 
that’s the way it is, and so we’re stuck with it. 
And we pay an awful lot of taxes; I don’t think 
we should pay another dime ever! It’s just 
tremendous; it’s, you know—well, you know 
what it is—supports most of the state. 

Then on the federal level, there’s no one to 
blame except the politics over the years, and 
soak the rich, and give the poor a free ride. 

Every year you think it can’t get any worse, 
and then it does. And I’ve always felt that; 
before I ever had a dime I felt that a graduated 
tax was unfair. You know, it should be twenty 
percent or forty percent or sixty—whatever it 
is—and it should be the same. And you make 
two dollars, you pay a percent of two dollars; 
it you make two million, you pay a percent 
of two million. And it just discourages. And 
graduated income tax—and I’ve been there a 
few times in the real high brackets. And you 
figure, “What the hell! Why should I gamble 
five hundred thousand on that thing? If I win, 
I’m gonna make twenty thousand a year to 
keep; and if I lose, I blow the full—whole five 
hundred. So I’ll just sit on my fanny.” 

And it’s tact, and course Congress refuses 
to recognize it, that when you do lower 
taxes, then—you know. And there’s plenty of 
entrepreneurs in this country, just waitin’ to 
give ’em a chance. And boy, they’ll be goin 
in all directions and inventing things and 
making things and manufacturing things 
and starting new types of restaurants and 
new types of stores and just makin so much 
money, and the government just take a flat 
twenty percent or ten percent (whatever) and 
they just have so much money—unbelievable. 
But, politically, as they say, which I don’t—I 
hate to even use the word ’cause to me it 
should be the same all the way; you know, 
right’s right and wrong’s wrong. And they 
say, “Well, technically this is correct, and 
politically that’s correct.” Well, you know, I’d 
be the world’s worst politician ’cause I don’t 
think that way. And I couldn’t; I hate to say 
all politicians are phony, but most of ’em 
are. And I don’t mean that derogatory; to be 
a successful politician, you gotta be kinda 
phony. You gotta stand up and smile and 
shake hands, and, “Gee, I’m glad to see ya,” 
you know, “Howya doin?” when you couldn’t 
care less; but you gotta get their votes. 


William F. Harrah 

Like they say, the ideal form of 
government—and I agree with it—is a 
benevolent dictatorship ’cause they just do 
what’s right and do it right now, and not a lot 
of waste effort and not a lot of waste money 
But, of course, how can you arrange to have a 
benevolent dictatorship, except occasionally 
they have ’em, but it just happened. 

But I don’t let it get me down (that’s real 
important), and I don’t let anything get me 
down. So you do the best you can, and then 
the hell with it, ’cause otherwise you just kill 
yourself worryin and sweatin’ and—. Pay the 
damn taxes, and that’s the way it goes. 


In that early period, was there any talk about 
unionizing the dealers and having strikes and 
so forth? 

I don’t remember any threat of unionizing 
the dealers that far back—just none. 

How did you work out the strike in 49? Do you 
remember the big Fourth of July strike in ’49? 

Yeah, I remember. Yeah, I hadn’t paid too 
much attention to it. In fact, that’s how we got 
the union in ’cause they just—I don’t really 
know how it got in. I think just because we 
weren’t payin’ attention. And all of a sudden 
we had a union, and I don’t know how it 
happened. I did know, of course, but I don’t 
know now. 

But the dealers—there was no thought 
of it in this part of the state, at least—wasn’t 
even discussed because dealers were very 
well paid compared to the other jobs in the 
community; so they were just doin’ fine. 
And then the bartenders— and when they 
went out—and some of ours did and some 
of ’em didn’t—then the ones that didn’t were 

threatened—and they went out—which I 
didn’t blame ’em. So then we ran the bars 
ourself for a little while, and then it was not 
really worth the trouble, so we closed ’em up. 
But it caught my attention. And then later 
when we got around to it, we decertified, 
which you can do. I remember we had a 
picket in Reno; we didn’t have any picket 
at the Lake ’cause the Lake’s so remote. But 
we had elections both places and won ’em 
both handily. And so since then, we’ve had 
no unions except our musicians, which 
technically aren’t really Harrah’s employees; 
they’re employees of the orchestra leader—or 
not technically; that’s a fact. Of course, the 
union tries to argue about it, but we pay the 
orchestra leader, and he can hire whatever 
violinist he wants and tire her—him or her— 
and hire another one. That’s his job, so it’s not 
a problem at all any more. Of course, who 
knows with all the new things happening? 
We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, 
but we are very aware of it all the time. 

Did you help in supporting the Right to Work 
law, then, after that? 

Oh boy, I sure did! Yeah. I’m sure I 
contributed and spoke for it to anybody that 
would listen to me. But I didn’t go up and 
down the street or anything. It’s the same 
as I support anything today. You do what 
you can do. And of course, you’re so limited 
to what you can do that—who knows? 
Discouraging sometimes, but that’s the way 
it is. 

I know I was real happy with that. I think 
we won—what did we have—three elections, 
didn’t we?—in the state? 

I wondered if you’d like to talk a little bit 
more about the labor problem. You’re one of 
the state’s biggest employers; and even in that 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


early period, in the time up to before you went 
up to Tahoe, you had a lot of people working 
for you and here a couple of decertification 
elections and so forth. We haven’t had the 
kind of violence here that they have had in 
Vegas, for instance; but the problems have 
been just about as severe, and during the Right 
to Work fight the problems were really in front 
of everybody. 

Well, I feel as strongly as anybody can 
feel about the Right to Work. It’s American 
fundamental, I think, and the union abuses 
are just nationwide or—I don’t even want to 
go into that. They’re so obvious that—you 
know. This isn’t a talk on unionization, but in 
our company—and I will say to anybody there 
are companies deserve unionization, because 
they treat their employees terribly, and that’s 
why there are unions today. If everyone had 
treated their employees as they would like to 
be treated themselves over the years, there’d 
be no unions, but so many companies have 
asked for it. And they deserve it. But I think 
we haven’t asked for it, and we don’t deserve it, 
and it’s just another added problem. We have 
enough problems as it is, but unionization is 
a super problem. I’ll say one thing (and this 
can be published; I have no objection to it), 
I was in Vegas and visited many places, but 
there was one place that one of the owners 
(or whoever—I forgot) said they had thirteen 
unions. I complimented him on a good 
operation. And he said, “Thank you, but,” he 
said, “I spend about a third or a fourth of my 
time actually running the place, and the other 
two-thirds or three-fourths, dealing with the 
unions. But,” he said, “I have thirteen.” He 
said, “You don’t have any” (our musicians 
really don’t count the way it is), he said, “You 
don’t have any, and,” he said, “do you realize 
how good that is?” 

I said, “Yes, I do.” 

And he said, “Well, let me emphasize it.” He 
said, “No matter what the unions do—” (and 
of course, which is no secret either)—but [he 
noted that] one way of avoiding unionization 
is to treat your employees properly and to have 
a board of review, which we do, so a person 
can’t be discharged politically—they have to 
be proven they were at fault. The other thing 
is wages and benefits. And you have to stay 
even or ahead of the union, which we do. 

And occasionally, we have another holiday 
or something, and some of our people will say, 
“That’11 cost another four hundred thousand 
dollars or something, and—” which four 
hundred thousand is a lot of money. 

But still, you have to look at the big 
picture, which this man told me, which I 
already knew; but I was happy that he told me, 
anyway. He said, “No matter what it costs you, 
no matter what it costs you, do it to keep the 
unions out, and you can run your business. 

And really, it is a sad story that this man 
who I respect— super guy, super operator— 
and he’s just in a straitjacket. I’d hate to be a 
head-and-head competitor of him without 
unions, ’cause he’s right on it. That’s a dirty 
shame that he has to spend—well, he works 
about a twelve-hour day, so it’s eight hours 
a day with union problems. And that isn’t 
what the unionization was meant to be. It was 
meant to uplift the abused worker, not to cost 
the management for mismanagement and 
unnecessary expenses. Look at the railroads— 
there’s a good example. 

Day to Day Operation 

One of the points on your outline is about 
your reputation as being a perfectionist in the 
business. How did you develop these practices 
that led you to have this reputation, and what 
kind of satisfaction does it give you to have 
made a place that is so nearly perfect? 


William F. Harrah 

Well, it’s far from perfect, but it is better 
than, I’d say, all of our competitors in that 
respect. And it’s a personal thing, I guess, that 
it is just like I’ve said, probably, ’cause I’ve said 
it many times—that I like our customers to be 
treated as I would like to be treated. When I 
go to the men’s room, I like it clean, and I like 
toilet paper and towels and soap and a good 
light and—. And then the restaurant, I like it 
to be—this chair to be comfortable and the 
things clean and the menu not dog-eared, 
and just on and on and on. That’s the way I 
like to live, and I thought—and I’m right, I’m 
sure—that the general public likes that. 

And it puzzles me today (and I guess as 
long as I live, I’ll be puzzled). Just recently, I 
was somewhere in a rather popular restaurant 
(I won’t name it, but I can remember where it 
was) and good food and all. And I was given 
a menu, and it was years old and greasy and 
torn and—menus, so what do they cost? 
Then I went to the men’s room and it looked 
like 1905 or something—just—. It wasn’t too 
dirty, but the facilities were—and quite a large 
place—it was a dinner house. And maybe 
they would seat several hundred people, and 
I think the men’s room was maybe one-at-a- 
time sort of a situation—just unbelievable! 
The lock on the door wouldn’t work. And then 
I went there a month later, and the lock on the 
door still didn’t work. You know, just—I don’t 
understand it. 

So to me it’s not surprising; I’m just—. 
The surprising thing is that other people 
don’t do it. That’s what I—. Do you—do you 
[chuckling] understand? 

I’m puzzled, and I’ve asked many people 
why—the dog-eared menu and the dirty 
restroom and the dirt in the parkin’ lot that 
hasn’t been cleaned in two months. And they 
have to see it every day! That’s, you know— 
they could’ve cleaned it this morning and then 
trash blown in, and it’s dirty now; but when it 

goes day after day, I just—it’s beyond me—I 

You know, you’ve got to hire people to keep 
things clean. 

Well, I mean like these restrooms—I mean 
they could— with the amount of business they 
do—and they could put in a ten-thousand- 
dollar men’s room and not know it. And then 
the cleanliness, of course, why, that’s—maybe 
they don’t like to hire janitors or somethin’. 
Well, the place isn’t really too dirty; it’s just 
that the one I’m speaking of was just 1908 

It’s amazing the people continue to go there. 

Uh-huh. Well, the food’s awful good. 
[Chuckles] Oh, we go there—we love it! They 
treat us so neat! And the food’s really the best. 
The men’s room—huh! 

Would you like to talk about local politics, in 
the early ’50s period? 

Yeah. I’m not sure of when—I get the years 
mixed up, but politics when—just no big deal, 
as I remember—the local politics. And so that 
[Baker] gang got in there; it was 

Right after Len Harris. 

Yeah, well, Len was a likable guy—Len 
was okay. I liked Len, really. He wasn’t the 
greatest mayor, but he was a fun guy to be 
around. And he pushed you real hard to buy 
his lousy meat. And I remember gettin’ after 
our guys, you know’—’’Buy some meat from 
Len Harris.” And I was real serious. 

And they said, “Well, what’ll we do with 
it?” [Laughing] 

And I said, “Well, serve it!” [Laughing] 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


They said, “We can’t! It’s too awful,” which 
it was; I got into it. And I don’t know to this 
day—I’ll give him the benefit—. There’s two 
thoughts—either he was puttin’ the muscle 
on you a little bit and sellin’ you bum meat 
at a high price, or he didn’t know. And I 
like to go by the second one, ’cause he was 
real involved and politically ambitious—he 
wanted to be governor or president (I don’t 
know what) once he had the taste, which 
you’ve seen thousands of times. They get the 
taste of public office and get elected, why, their 
life will change completely. So that’s the way I 
like to think of Len ’cause I liked him. I think 
[he] was just so involved in politics that he 
really didn’t know what was goin on in his 
meat packing place. 

Do you have any other names there ? 

I knew ’em all, but they don’t come to me. 

Len Harris came after Tank Smith’s 
administration; that was a fairly quiet period. 
And then they said that nobody could be a 
worse mayor than Len Harris, and they elected 
Bud Baker. 

Yeah, and proved themselves wrong. But 
Bud and that whole gang were just terrible, 
then. I’ll go into that—I don’t remember any 
names, but I can tell you all about ’em. But 
they were just a bunch of crooks—all of ’em 
or most of em—and just terrible. 

I don’t think I should go into that because 
there was a lot of dirty payoff stuff there, some 
of which I know about; and I don’t want it 
[oral history] restricted. Some of those guys 
are still walkin’ around, you know. 

My feeling on the Baker administration— 
it was that there was dishonesty there. And 
the strange things that were happening in 
the city. One I knew about, which is the 

one of £ the record or would—restricted— 
would be George Carr, who I knew very well 
and was a good friend of mine. And until 
that happened—and he got a big chunk of 
money (I don’t know exactly how much) on 
that Coliseum deal. I know he retired right 
afterwards, and I don’t know if he’s worked 
since. And it was common knowledge, or 
among my crowd of people it was no secret 
at the time, what had happened, but nobody 
wanted to do anything about it, and I didn’t. 
I thought, “Well, nobody else cares—. I was 
very distressed at the way the city was going, 
but I thought, “If nobody else cares, I don’t 
want to get in where I have to look over my 
shoulder when I walk home at night.” So I let 
it pass. I don’t know if I should’ve or not, but 
I did. But he’s the only one I know definitely. 

But the rest of it, I—just it was very 
distasteful, I remember that. And quite often 
I (I may have told you this earlier) —when 
things are distasteful to me, I try to put ’em 
out of my mind, which I may have done there. 
But the George Carr thing was so shocking, 
’cause he was a close friend of mine. I’d bought 
cars from him, and we’d raced each other and 
drank with each other. And I kinda liked 
George until that happened, and then it really 
turned me off. Well, that’s all I want to say 
about that. 

It was the darkest part in Reno’s history 
without any question, at least in my time. 

Is he still around town? 

I think he is. 

Why, he’s the kind of guy that about 
every two years you turn around, there he 
is. I remember he’s bald, and then he had a 
hairpiece that said “hairpiece” all over it. And 
he was so proud of it! And I know him well 
enough—I said, “Where’d you get the phony 
hairpiece, George?” 


William F. Harrah 

So then the next time I saw him—within a 
week—he didn’t have it on, and I said, “What 
did you do—get dressed in a hurry and—?” 
which really isn’t nice, although I don’t have 
as much hair as I’ve had—why, you shouldn’t 
needle people that are bald. That’s not nice. 
But when they wear wigs and things—. 

Would you describe a typical working day, 
before the opening at Tahoe? 

Well, there was the drinking period which 
was up through— oh, wait a minute now; 
the casino opened in ’46. Well, that was the 
drinkin’ period, which I think I got into that a 
little bit with you about how I got to be a heavy 
drinker. I liked to drink, and I drank more and 
more. But I think possibly, if I hadn’t got into 
the casino business where the bar was right 
in the place, then I might not’ve really got so 
heavy. But when we opened with the bars— 
and I liked to drink, and people would—as in 
Reno—come in and buy a drink, a courtesy 
drink, and I would have a drink with them, 
which I liked to have—I liked the drink— 
which you’ve seen many bar people that will 
just take a sip and—which I learned to do 
later. But still you have a hundred sips, that’s a 
lot of liquor! But I enjoyed it, really. And being 
as young as I was, I could maneuver fairly 
well; I couldn’t do it today at all with all that 
liquor. But it would start, well, at first, maybe 
five o’clock, and then later it moved up till 
noon or something. And then I would drink 
all evening—have dinner, usually—then drink 
and get feelin pretty good, but still could walk 
and talk and do my job. 

And then my job at that time was just 
counting the boxes, as we said, which was 
usually midnight and eight in the morning 
and four in the afternoon (it was eight-hour 
periods); or maybe I think it was six, two, and 
ten—yeah. That made more sense because 

that was like the evening shift ran into two, 
and then it was really graveyard. So my job 
was to count the boxes. I didn’t count the 
morning shift, the ten a.m., but I counted the 
six o’clock and the two o’clock, and that was 
my regular job and my principal job outside 
of the overall, which was kinda fun, really, 
’cause there was always two of us. We were 
right on the up-and-up, and it was usually 
me and Wayne Martin and-or Warren Nelson 
and-or the next guy, and-or Bob Ring. And 
one of us was always there. But when I was 
around, oh, I loved it, especially when you’d 
had a good shift, and it was fun to open those 
boxes and find ’em full of hundred-dollar bills. 
And of course, you’d have to look at the “fills” 
instantly, and maybe you’d have ten thousand 
in hundred-dollar bills, but you might have 
twelve thousand in fills; so you would look 
at the fills first, and if they’ve very few or 
none, then all the money was profit on that 
game—not counting the overheads. So it was 
fun; I enjoyed it, and I like to count the money 
today. I don’t do it often, but sometimes. But 
I like to set ’em just straight, and they all have 
to go the same way. And a crumpled bill, even 
the ones, I’d straighten ’em all out and—. Then 
I’m kinda simple-minded, and it was—like 
I’d tell my wife today that—like I’ll see a man 
[when] we’re traveling somewhere, and then 
we stop and there’s a man has a sign, says, 
“Stop,” while the grader does something. And 
then finally the grader will move and he’ll turn 
the sign around, it’ll say, “Go.” And I’ll tell 
her, “Now there’s a job I could handle!” you 
know. And I said, “Furthermore, I’d enjoy it!” 
[Laughing] So that was countin’ the money. 
That was the job I could handle, and I loved 
it. But then I haven’t done that in fifteen years, 
I guess. 

And then when they had some scandals 
which—and I questioned that a little bit, but 
I understand their reasoning. Nowadays I 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


don’t think they want an owner to count 
the money any more because there were so 
many of ’em puttin’ it in their pocket. But to 
me I think there should be some—I think if 
an owner wants to count his money, then he 
could ask for a state agent or something; but I 
understand the reason for it. But still it’s sure 
a lot of fun to count it. Think of all the money 
Fitz has counted over the years. I understand 
the way he worked, he counted every shift. Of 
course, he lived right there. 

But that whiled my day. Then at two 
o’clock, the boxes’d come off and two-thirty, 
three, we’re finished. And usually we’d go 
over—and maybe if we had an extra good 
day, we’d go over and have a drink just “on the 
square,” we called it, where we weren’t with 
the customers; maybe Wayne and I’d go have 
a drink. 

And then quite often we’d go—Wayne was 
pretty good; he’d go have a drink with you 
somewhere, but he was a good homebody. 
And I was a drinker and kind of a playboy 
type, so I liked to circulate. But Grand bar— 
Grand Buffet, they called it, but it was the 
Grand bar—and that was right out our back 
door, so that was almost a must on the way 
home. And I think I mentioned that earlier, 
didn’t I? And Johnny and—I met a lot of 
people in the Grand that—Reno people—Bill 
Graham, and on and on and on. 

Then after I’d leave the Grand, depending— 
and I knew a lot of places in town, like the 
Riverside I knew Bud von Hatten, bartender 
there. He was a real good friend of mine. In 
fact, I took him up to Idaho a couple of times 
to go huntin’ and fishin and all. So I’d go see 
Bud; he worked the graveyard. He knew a 
lot of people, and Bud was fun. It was fun to 
be in there, and Bud ran a bar good, too. He 
was all alone, but he was a real husky guy. 
Anybody get into trouble, I never saw Bud 
hit anybody or anything; but when people 

would get—he would straighten it out and 
just—well, he always grinned, and when he 
quit grinning, why, there was a message there. 
I think he’s workin at the Mapes now. Oh, he’s 
a wonderful guy—Bud von Hatten. Has a big 
grin, bald head, and goin guy. 

But the Riverside was usually the last one, 
and it was kinda interesting. Usually, there 
was nothin’ dam’; there were just a bunch of 
guys hangin around there, mainly. And they 
had games there, and the games were crooked 
([I] forget who ran ’em at the time). But they 
were crooked, which a lot of games were that 
way, which if you’re gonna be crooked, it was 
the way to run it. [In] little amounts, why, it 
was on the square; but then when it got real 
heavy, why, then, look out! That’s the way the 
Riverside was in those days. 

Then I’d get home maybe four or five. 
And I usually lived on South Virginia, it 
seemed, in various places. Well, I lived at 
the El Reno apartments for a while, which I 
liked very much. And then I got out of there, 
unfortunately, and regretted it. And I kinda 
moved around town. I lived at the Napes for a 
while, and I lived at the Riverside for a while. 
I think I lived at the Mapes for a couple of 
years, and I lived at the Riverside for two or 
three—till I got kicked out. I like to say that 
in both places, and not that I was—I paid 
my rent on time, and I didn’t cause any fuss. 
But Charlie’s [Napes] hotel wasn’t really too 
successful in many ways. But one mistake he 
made was, he had these apartments, which I 
had; and you just shouldn’t have apartments 
over a casino. You should have rooms, where 
people can come and go, which they figured 
out. And then, yes, he was very nice; he asked 
me to move. First I was a little surprised; and 
then when he explained why, it made so much 
sense that, you know 

And then I moved to the Riverside, and 
that was the Wertheimer days, which was really 


William F. Harrah 

fun. And I don’t know if they moved me out 
or—I think they did. I think it was the same 
reason. I had an apartment there, and I think 
they—I wonder if they eliminated those or not. 
[I’m] tryin to think where I moved to, then. 

It was fun livin’ there. I loved it. 

And then—see, Charlie opened in ’46, 
I think. And I quit drinkin’ in ’52. I think I 
was livin’ at the Golden then, or stayin’ there. 
And then I think I went back to the—. Well, 
drinking or not drinking, when I lived at the 
hotels, I just walked home (which was really 
good in a way—I wasn’t driving) and walked 
to work. I really liked it, though. Although 
I was drinking a lot, I was still very efficient 
because I hung around here and went home, 
went to bed, and got up, and came back to 
work; so that was pretty good. 

And then when I—moved somewhere— 
and then when I quit drinking in ’52,1 think 
I was livin’ at the Riverside at the time. And 
then, of course, that gave me another six or 
eight hours a day that I didn’t have to waste 
sleepin’ it off. And I could walk to work, so 
boy, I really put in sixteen- eighteen-hour 
days; and they were—every hour counted. So 
things really moved then. 

Of Course, then, you know, more—and 
you pay attention— why, of course, the money 
was a lot better then; and it multiplies of itself 
’cause I didn’t spend as much, and I worked 
harder so I made more. And then, of course, 
I was more attentive to business; and I’m sure 
I saw some things that had been going on 
that I really hadn’t noticed before that were 

And then the expansion started. You 
know, I’d been in not too good of shape for 
years and what—I mean I paid off the loans to 
get open, but then I hadn’t really accumulated 
too much. Then the soberness came along 
and payin’ attention. I think our first move 
was buyin out the Hobsons next door. And 

then that’d double the size of the place, and 
that was quite successful. 

Wondered if you would like to comment on how 
women work out in the organization. 

Well, the reason we started with women 
was oh, we’d used women always as in the 
checking capacity in the Bingo parlors 
(afterward to count the cards). And then we 
opened here, it was all men dealers, except 
Harolds Club had lady dealers. And I thought 
that looked pretty good and brought it up with 
Warren Nelson and some of the old-timers, 
and they objected strongly. “Women couldn’t 
deal,” and so on, so on, “couldn’t protect the 
game”—that was a big thing. 

And I said, “Well, we got pit bosses now,” 
and on and on and da da da. And they were— 
it was really just anti. Finally figured it out. 
But during the discussion, I wanted to get 
along with everyone, and I said, “Well, look 
at Harolds Club. They got ’em.” 

And then it was common that whenever 
I’d point out Harolds Club—Harolds Club had 
a lot of business, and their slot machines were 
loose, and a lot of slot play, women dealers, 
lots of “21” play—and whenever I’d point it 
out to my management, they would scoff and 
say, “Oh-ho-ho, they don’t know how to run 
a place!” And still the Bank Club, who my 
advisors admired, at that time had one-fourth 
of the business that Harolds had. Harolds was 
going huckley-buck, as they say; and the Bank 
Club was slowly dying, but everyone [thought 
the] Bank Club was the thing. We followed, 
and then just because of my advisors, men 
dealers, and white shirts and ties, and sour 
pusses, and shills. And we finally got some 
women dealers which loosened the place up, 
and got rid of the shills, maybe put the fellas 
in somethin’ besides white shirts and ties; it 
really livened the place up. 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


But the big thing with women, I think 
the reason I did it, which I observed, was, 
our place was very beautiful for the period, 
very attractive. Tourists would look in, and 
they wouldn’t come in. And I was afraid that 
because it was so nice, which in some cases, 
of course, was true. But many times—and I 
figured it out—I think I overheard somebody 
say it once or twice, there were no women in 
there. And we did have cocktail waitresses, but 
they looked in and saw all these men standin 
and it was kinda scary. And they looked in 
Harolds Club, and here these ladies there, and in 
they’d go. So that So that was a convincer where 
I was concerned. So we tried ladies, and they 
worked out fine over the years; they’re excellent. 

And then after the “21” and wheels came 
along real fast— wheel dealers—then Craps 
was later and slower. And for one reason 
was—it slowed it up—was that maybe it wasn’t 
“ladylike,” which I don’t necessarily agree 
with; but a certain type of lady can deal Craps 
very graciously and be a lady. But they are 
handicapped by stature; they have to be rather 
tall—a lady Crap dealer—to be able to reach 
all the bets, but they worked out fine there. 

Then a few years ago, we went into lady 
pit bosses. We have a different name for ’em, 
but we’ve had several of those for years in 
Reno and Tahoe. And then just recently we 
have a woman on our board of directors. But 
there is a innate (I don’t know if that’s the 
right word) reluctance to put women in our 
company—I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true—in 
positions of responsibility. And about the only 
ones we get—or generally the only ones—is 
when I just pound the table and say, “Hey!” 
And then it gets done. But without that it 
just doesn’t happen, and I don’t know. And 
everyone will deny up and down, “Oh no, 
we’re not anti-women!” And I don’t think they 
are, really, but they just don’t think that way. I 
don’t know. Kind of disturbs me, and I don’t 

know the answer to it. But maybe as younger 
fellas come up—but I think Rome really is 
anti-women in high positions; and he would 
deny it to the death, but I think it’s true. They 
do a super job. 

You have been able to use some in the non¬ 
gambling supervision, too. 

I think we only have two now. We have 
a level where we have cocktail parties and 
dinner once a year—everybody. I forget what 
it’s called. Have it in Reno and have it at Tahoe, 
and I think there’s only two women there— 
Maggie Beaumont, she’s in our clothing—and 
some gal that was in advertising that left, 
retired. I think that’s all. 

Is it a problem with the other women who work 
here that they don’t see that as a possibility for 

I don’t know, course, we’re as good as any 
company, but it still is not nearly as good as it 
could be. 

Players and Other Competitors 
in Reno 

Have you had any contacts with the system 

Yeah, we’ve had a lot of ’em. Most of the 
systems don’t work. There is some; the card 
counter system does work. But we don’t have 
any problem with that because they really 
screw up the game, ’cause they have the 
whole table to themselves and so-and-so. So 
we just say, “No, he can’t sit down and play. 
And someone wants to sit by you and bet 
three dollars, they can bet—do it,” which the 
system player—and they’ll crab and call up 
and, you know, “go to the Gaming Control,” 


William F. Harrah 

and all that nonsense; but they’re not really 
a problem. 

And the only system player I remember 
that was really good was [LaVere] Redfield. 
He was a genius, and he could, he could beat 
you. He beat us many times, and I don’t know, 
in the overall, I think he probably came out 
ahead of us. [He] played many times for huge 
amounts of money. But he had a system that 
was a good one, and he had the nerve— well, 
he had the capital and the nerve. And so 
many people will have a system that’s pretty 
good, and it doesn’t work too good at the 
beginning, well, then you do have to increase; 
they’re all progressive somehow. And then 
they’ll—’’Well, gee whiz, it’s not working,” and 
then they’ll just start playin’ the game. And 
of course, you’re not playin’ the system, then 
you’re just another customer. 

But Redfield—and I’ve observed him 
through—we have a lookout—I watched 
him play; he was an interesting man. He 
would be betting ten thousand dollars on a 
number, or tour numbers, and he got there 
by starting at four hundred or something, 
and it would get to ten thousand. Then his 
next bet would be sixteen thousand and 
without, you know—instead of going like that 
[hand in mouth], he just put it there. And 
then the sixteen would go, and the next bet 
was—I think we’d get him up to maybe even 
thirty—could beat him—and it would come 
out there as quick as your head could [count]. 
And usually he would catch the last bet; not 
always we got him, but he would catch the last 
one and zing, he’d be out, and winners, and 
here we go. But he would, and so many that 
I think, “My God!” I knew he was a wealthy 
man—and of course, cheap in many ways, 
which I think was kind of an act with him. 
But he sure knew how to figure out the odds 
and also how to play the game. He’s the best 
I ever saw, without any doubt. And I admired 

the man just—I admired him in many ways. 
He minded his own business and handled 
his affairs, bought real estate cheap, bought 
bread cheap [laughing], and he was nice—. 
He’d come in and we’d be talking; then, win 
or lose fifty thousand, then we’d invite him 
for lunch, our guys would (I never had lunch 
with him, but I’d be near)—and he’d hesitate, 
you know. Oh, he didn’t know if he should. 
And he would go and just eat a little bit, you 
know, and then on the way out he’d thank me, 
“Oh, that was so nice of you, Mr. Harrah, to 
have me to lunch,” and just his—you know, the 
two cents on a loaf of bread and actually—and 
we’ve seen him do that— lose fifty thousand 
dollars and walk home, and we’d check on him 
to see—or maybe he’d win fifty, and we were 
afraid he’d get hit over the head—and have 
security observe him, you know? And he’d 
stop at a little grocery store and walk twelve 
blocks and go in and get a loaf of bread, you 
know, for four cents off! I thought, “How can 
a mind—” you know, thirty thousand dollars 
on a roll of the Roulette wheel and two or four 
cents on a loaf of bread in the same day, the 
same party! I mean just—it’s unfathomable! 
And he just had his own little compartments 
there. But he was a fun man. And when he 
had all the silver and it was stolen and—oh, 
that was—silver dollars, gold. 

Yeah, he was a good guy. We tried to buy 
land from him, and I don’t think we ever did. 
He would give you a price, and it was usually 
a little above the market. And that would, you 
know—no offers, no nothin’, just, there’s the 
price, which you can’t—there’s nothin’ wrong 
with that. Yeah, he was okay. Yeah, he was fun. 

He drove Fitz up the wall, you know. 
Oooh! I remember he had—I’m not too close 
to Fitz, but I was real close to Bill Cashill, and 
he’d tell me, he’d say, “What are you doin’ with 
[Redfield]?” course, Fitz, he gave him a big 
limit. Plus he had a single-Q wheel, which 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


cuts the odds. Redfield really gave him fits. 
We had to get it from the outside, but it was a 
lot more than ours. And Fitz finally had to cut 
him way down ’cause he was just—he couldn’t 
get away. 

The characters like Redfield are kind of dying 
out, aren’t they? 

Yeah, oh, you got some new ones—I 
mean in a different way, like this the man—it’s 
like Cashill, only it isn’t—the truck stop out 
here, Boomtown. Cashill, yeah. He’s entirely 
different, but he’s a comparatively newcomer, 
at least for me; but he’s go-go-go and has a nice 
operation out there. I go out every once in a 
while, and I tell our guys, which sometimes 
I’m a little disappointed—they get in their 
little shells and go home and come to work, 
go home, and—. I remember I asked at a 
meeting—well, I said, “How many been to 
Boomtown?” And I think only one. I said, 
“God, get out of your snug you get your kicks, 
why—. I sure believe in workin’ hard and 
makin money, but I believe in enjoyment, 
too. But of course, if I’d had people lookin’ 
for me like Fitz, and was in his condition, 
I’m sure I wouldn’t be traipsin’ all over the 
world, or ridin’ a motorcycle, or anything. 
But I respect them. They’re good operators; 
they’re good, honest operators. They’re pretty 
easy competition, too, as they don’t really try 
to—to my knowledge—to cater too much to 
the players. The games are on the square, and 
there it is, and so-and-so. But too much back 
slapping or comping or anything like that— 
take it or leave it, which is their way. It’s their 

Harrah’s Hotel, Reno 

How about talking about the planning for the 
hotel which started in oh, ’63 or so. 

Well, of course, we knew we needed a 
hotel at Tahoe and Reno, but I don’t think 
the planning started that early. I think the 
planning started about the time that the 
Golden Hotel property became available. 
And that’s when the Tomerlin boys had it 
and didn’t operate it too well ’cause they were 
just—were good fellas but just young kids. I 
believe their father bought it, and then either 
he died or gave it to them or something. And 
so they inherited it in their twenties, a casino 
hotel in Reno which they didn’t know how 
to operate, and it was a very poor operation. 
And then somehow they started to rebuild 
and ran out of money. And then things just 
got worse and worse until—I forget the touch- 
off, what did it, but anyway, we could acquire 
the property, which we did, which filled in 
beautifully with what we already had. 

So then we rebuilt the hotel. As the steel 
had been standing for several years and had 
become rusty, I believe we took it down and 
reused some of it, although it wasn’t quite 
as strong as we wanted. But we just about 
completely rebuilt it to our specs, which are 
pretty good—not as good as Tahoe, amenity- 
wise, but its a good hotel. 

That opened in ’69, and was an instant 
success. I imagine the overall occupancy since 
it opened must be over ninety percent ’cause 
it runs a hundred quite often. And for several 
years, there, we had a policy of never having 
a hundred percent. They would always have 
three or four rooms for latecomers. But then 
we took a second look at it and discovered 
there were very few of those, and we could 
educate our good customers to give us a 
call. And plus if a good customer did show 
up without a room at two in the morning, 
which was a rarity, we usually—not always, 
but ninety-nine times out of a hundred— 
maneuver around, or someone was there, 
or it’s an old friend, and you could get ’em 


William F. Harrah 

a room. We now have a hundred percent 
occupancy, but over the years that did hurt 
our percentage. 

An old story, which is very true, that you 
should keep saying to yourself if you’re in the 
hotel business or the rooming business, is an 
unrented room—one night, say, a night in a 
room that’s unrented for one night—that’s 
gone forever. Sol think that’s what brought us 
around us, sayin’, “Hey, let’s rent these rooms.” 

It seems to me that everything I’ve ever read 
on hotel management is nothing like that kind 
of percentage. 

I think Seventies—yeah. No, like fifty is— 
you know—fair-poor, and sixty and seventy 
is pretty good. But when we tell people, 
you know, that we’re ninety to a hundred, 
both places, they find it hard to believe. It’s 
very gratifying, really. It shows we’re doin’ 
somethin’ right. 

What do you think is the most important thing 
that you’re doing right? 

Oh, well, to put it, well, you know, just, it’s 
treating the customers as we would like to be 
treated. And the hotel, they check you in; the 
desk clerks should smile, and if they have a 
reservation, they should find the reservation 
like that [snaps fingers]. And the room should 
be available unless it’s ten in the morning. I 
think check-out time’s noon; well, then the 
room should be ready by one or two. And 
that if they wanted a certain kind of a suite 
and it was confirmed, they should get that. 
And when they get to the room, it should 
be clean and made up and a rose and all the 
little amenities we have. Should be quiet, they 
shouldn’t be bugged. And the lock should be 
secure on the door, and the maid should be 
prompt and good and—. 

When they call room service—that’s 
another specialty of ours, like breakfast. Their 
breakfast isn’t there in, I think it’s twenty 
minutes or possibly less, well, there’s a written 
report comes down—and it’s usually fifteen 
minutes. And that’s bacon and eggs and 
juice and the whole thing, which just gets a 
tremendous amount of—because I travel a lot 
and, well, like at the Plaza Hotel in New York, 
which is one of the so-called super hotels in 
New York. And I like it—its location and all, 
although it is overrated. But I’ve had room 
service there where it’s been over an hour. And 
I’ve called two or three times, and “Oh, it’s on 
the way, it’s on the way,” and just ridiculous! 
Breakfast, you know—you eat breakfast; you 
have something to do. You want to get up, 
have breakfast, and go about your way. And 
when you have to wait, it’s absolutely—and 
there’s no—’cause when you check it out, and 
why didn’t it get there? And it’ll be cooked, 
the cook will get the order, he will cook it, he 
puts it here, and then the waiter doesn’t pick 
it up. He’s talking, or he’s upstairs in another 
delivering another order. Well, there has to 
be a system where if he isn’t there, someone 
else— that it doesn’t wait. As soon as that’s 
cooked [pounds table], away it goes. It can 
be done. 

Also, we have floor stations at the Lake, 
especially. Those things—which really bugs 
me—in hotels in this country— ’cause they’ve 
had that in Europe forever. Like the Savoy 
Hotel in London and the Ritz in Paris, and 
any good hotel, they have a little commissary 
on each floor. And you can get just about 
anything. The Savoy is my favorite because 
they have a butler—he’s like a butler—on the 
floor, and you ring room service for breakfast, 
and you ring a bell, and by the time you pull 
your finger, he’s unlocked the door, and he’s 
there in his tie and all, and his pencil and 
paper. “Yes, sir, what would you like?” And 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


da da da da da da da. And he’s gone. “Thank 
you.” And just six minutes, eight minutes, 
unless it’s fancy eggs or something, why, 
there’s your breakfast. And everything! And 
the flower and the napkin and the ice water 
and the—just—it can be done. 

But you have to want to do it, and it’s 
that simple. Overall, I guess, it’s to please the 
public, please them! And they—”Gee, that’s 
neat! Remember the—let’s stay there if we can.” 
And of course, we have lots of turnaways. It’s so 
simple; I just don’t know why—. I’m glad other 
people don’t do it; if you start competitors, or 
some of’em don’t—. Just as I travel the world, 
I’m puzzled so many—. So many places, 
I’m pleased, like the Savoy. So many places, 
where they’re just—like New York is very bad, 
generally. Like the customers, just, enough of 
them! “Give me your money! Get out of here!” 
That isn’t what it’s all about. Huh! 

You’re really a student of good service, aren’t 
you ? How do you think you became that way ? 

Well, I don’t know how. I mean I do—I 
know what I am, but I like things—. And my 
folks, they liked things nice, although they 
weren’t as picky as I was. I don’t know—just, 
I answer you, I’m puzzled that other people 
aren’t that way. You order, the waitress takes 
your order, and she should go give it to the 
cook, and he should cook it, and she should 
pick it up and bring it to you. And when it isn’t 
done, it bugs me. And whether it’s an airline 
reservation or whatever, ’cause people should 
do their job; that’s what they’re gettin’ paid for. 
I like a comfortable life. I don’t like trouble; I 
like things to go smoothly. I like everybody to 
be happy, having a good time. When things 
are like that, there’s plenty of problems without 
makin’ ’em. So if you can avoid problems— 
’cause there’s plenty. Surely in the daily report 
here, there’s about six or eight or ten, where 

somethin’ was wrong and somethin’ was wrong 
and somethin’ was—and that’s when we’re 
trying. And if you’re not trying, it’s just—well, 
then it’s really super awful. 

You must have some particular characteristic 
or technique with your staff that makes them 
want to be that way, too. 

Oh, yeah. It’s big, really big, ’cause you 
have to really start—I mean you have to be 
equipped for it, too. That may be the reason 
for the others, ’cause our kitchens and our 
room service and our extra—we have an extra 
elevator now, each place, for room service, 
so the room people don’t have to wait for the 
elevator (which was an old excuse, and usually 
true, but—). And that’s dumb to start—why 
should room service have to wait while 
somebody’s going down to check out? Room 
service should go like that [claps]. And also, 
well, there’re so many things you can—. Like I 
think at the Lake, we have something on every 
floor, and I think in Reno here, we’re eighteen 
or twenty stories—no, twenty-four. I think on 
the twelfth floor, somewhere in there, we have 
a kind of a helpful kitchen. So if you’re on the 
twenty-fourth floor, your food doesn’t have to 
come from One, it comes from Twelve. And 
all those little things. And then the employees 
have to be trained, of course, to move it. And it 
can be done. And we’ve done it for years. And 
it costs a little more, maybe, but you make it 
up in the happy customers. And I’ve had so 
many people tell me (and I know they’ve told 
others, of course, thousands of times)—very 
wealthy people—and the big thing is, he got 
his breakfast when he was hungry, and it was 
the way he ordered it, and that starts him off 
on a wonderful mood. And I’ve been through 
that. Anyone that travels has. 

But we stamp every ticket, when it’s 
ordered and when it’s delivered to the waiter, 


William F. Harrah 

or his pickup time. So we can check back 
when somethin’ goofs, where the goof was. 
But you have to have people—you mentioned 
earlier—and they’re not too easy to find, but 
you can find them—people that want to. There 
are people that just—you can talk to them 
forever, and they’re not gonna do that. Then 
you find people that do want to work and do 
want to please, and your screening and all— 
you have to dig through and find those people. 
It isn’t too easy. 

All of this is in the background of the planning 
for your hotel, and you must have spent a lot 
of time thinking about how you were going to 
do this. 

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, of course. Well, 
the hotel, we had planned a hotel for years, 
either Reno or Tahoe or both. And then 
over the years, I had a file called the “Hotel 
File.” Then everywhere I traveled, any idea I 
liked, I brought it back. Then when we got to 
planning, we went through all that, and it was, 
where a lot of your elevator, and your room 
service, and on and on and on and on and 
on. There were many things in there that I’d 
forgotten that we incorporated—I’m a great 
believer in copyin a good idea. So yeah, we 
had that. 

And then we had our architect at the 
time. We had the experts in hotel planning. 
There’re proper ways of doing things. You get 
an architect that’s qualified in the line you’re 
doing, and then get your experts; the food, 
why, you really need technical food experts 
to lay out a kitchen. And we’ll have our food 
people go over it. But the—well, it’s not 
range—whatever it is today, but that goes here, 
and this goes there, and then this goes over 
here [gestures], not there, you know. All that, 
and then the way the kitchen— there’s a flow, 
and all that sort of thing. That’s a real specialty. 

Of course, the experts charge a lot, and they’re 
well worth it; you want to get a good one. 
And he can come in and just charges a zillion 
dollars an hour, and then you make it back 
because of his expert design. Well, that’s true 
through the whole—both hotels. 

Elevators. You have your own ideas, 
which I believe in plenty of elevators and fast 
elevators. I [chuckling] remember one that 
was when we built the hotel here in Reno. Bob 
Martin, who’s an excellent man—he’s kind of 
our construction guy and our planning in that 
way. He’s in on the ground floor of all that, and 
he knows the value of a dollar. I remember 
we got into a thing on elevators. We could, I 
think, go from the first floor to the twenty- 
fourth floor in say, twenty-two seconds or 
something. And that cost so much, and then 
to do it in fifteen seconds (or whatever—I’m 
not sure of the time, but maybe thirty or forty 
percent less) cost another two hundred and 
fifty or three hundred thousand dollars. And 
I remember, they brought it up at a meeting. 
And sometimes when they don’t really agree 
with my thinking, they’ll maybe try to slip 
it through (which maybe that’s an unfair 
statement). So they brought up, twenty-two 
seconds was so much and sixteen seconds was 
two hundred and fifty more. “What would you 
like, Bill?” 

And I said, “Fifteen seconds!” Just—you 

“Well, do you want to talk about it?” 

I said, “No! Can you make it twelve 
seconds [laughing]—?” And there is a limit, 
which I learned, too. I said, “Well that’s—” 
(and I averaged it out) “that’s so much a floor.” 
And I said, “Well, doggone it! That Hilton in 
New York—I’ve stayed there, and that’s sixty 
floors, and I know I was on the fifty-fourth 
floor, and it took me a minute and twelve 
seconds to get up there, so that was an average 
of so many seconds per floor.” 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


And they said, “Yes.” And then they had 
a good answer. They had to get their experts 
in. And you have to start and stop, so it’s like 
a car. You can go from here, ten miles, and in 
the meantime get up to a hundred miles an 
hour and slow down. But if you’re only going 
three blocks, you can’t get up to a hundred 
and stop too well. 

Whether it’s a kitchen or a elevator or a 
hotel, I’m a great believer (and I believe the 
organization is now) in getting the experts 
in, and be sure you get good ones, and payin’ 
them what they want, and let them help you 
and adapt to it. It’s so true, no matter what you 
get into, somebody’s already been there before 
you and have studied the problems, and 
someone usually’s come up with a real good 
answer. And if you can find out what that 
answer is by payin’ something, why, you save 
time and money and effort and frustration 
and a whole bunch of things. 

I think all of our planning and building 
has gone that way, with our own ideas of extra 
amenities, like at the Lake— which is a phobia 
of mine, and is well appreciated. Of course, it 
adds to the expense, but it is a public pleaser 
without any question—especially the ladies. 
And it’s a big time saver and a big frustration 
saver, and sometimes I’ll say that it’s maybe 
good marital relations—’cause anyone that’s 
traveled, and one bathroom, and the man and 
the wife and the so-and-so, and you’re short 
of time, and it can cause a little disagreement 
occasionally. And when you have your own, 
why, you’re on your own. It’s just so simple. 
My wife and I travel now; we can afford it, 
but we always have two bathrooms. And 
occasionally we’ll even have to rent another 
suite next door just to get that extra bathroom, 
and they’ll look at us like we’re crazy. But we’ll 
take it, and we’ll pay for it because that’s how 
we like to live, and we’re very happy; it works 
pretty good. 

It must be very rare to have this much planning 
go into any kind of an establishment; the 
planning for the casinos and the showrooms 
has been as careful as the planning for the hotel. 

Yeah. Well, we have a big advantage there, 
which we might not have done it if we’d gone 
the other way, if we’d started from scratch with 
a hotel and casino and the whole thing. And 
of course, there would have been a money 
crunch to get it put up. And you have to get 
open, and your time, and everything’s going 
out, nothing’s coming in; and so you want 
this and that—well, it’s going to take longer 
and cost more, and you will be tempted to cut 

Where we had the casino going, we 
had money coming in every day. And we’re 
building the hotel; we didn’t have to open the 
hotel any certain date, so we could just do it 
at our leisure and do it the way we wanted. 
So it’s much, much easier when you have the 
income, against when you’re starting from 
scratch. And I really sympathize with these 
people, and I’ve seen the hotels around town 
here when they go, and they’re goin’ along 
and this and that, and being held up here and 
there. Well, like the Onslow is a good example, 
and I know those fellas, here and there, and 
I really sympathize with them. It’s going out, 
and they’re held up here, and there’s plasterers 
and so on, and everything going out, nothing 
coming in. And you finally get it open, it’s a 
happy day. 

How about the planning of the casino in the 
new part? Did you spend as much time on every 
square foot of space there? 

Yes, the company did; I didn’t. But Rome 
Andreotti and his casino people—yes. Every 
square inch of a casino is very, very important. 
And should the slot machine be there, should 


William F. Harrah 

it be here, and should the Keno game be there, 
and should it be so far from the wall?—and 
oh, yeah, that’s laid out. And there’s a certain 
way of laying out games—at least our way of 
doing it, so many “21s” and, then the Craps 
and so on, which we’ve evolved over the years. 
But that’s really Rome’s department. But I’m 
quite happy with it. And when I go other 
places, sometimes I’m puzzled how they do 
have their— it looks sometimes like they just 
brought ’em in and set ’em there and started 
out. And there’s a traffic flow, you know, and 
where it’s thin, you want to have something 
back there to maybe bring ’em there, and so 

Mr. Andreottis care with this is a reflection of 
the kind of thing that you’ve demanded? 

Oh, yeah. But that’s his specialty, course, 
Rome—we have an inside joke in the company, 
and it’s pretty true. Well, the joke is that, don’t 
leave that chair unobserved or Rome’ll take 
at out and put in a slot machine. But at one 
time here in Reno, we had so many games 
and slot machines there was just—wasn’t 
any space even for the people hardly. And 
you do have to—where they can meet, and 
you’re meeting friends for dinner, you should 
have a place to—and it was like this [hands 
close together]! I think that was during Shep’s 
administration, and he listened to Rome, 
which Rome was really strong then (I mean 
Rome’s strong anytime). But I think Shep, 
because of his lack of knowledge with it, just 
gave in a hundred percent to Rome. And 
then when Lloyd got in, I think the first two 
weeks, or the first month or something like 
that, we took out a hundred slot machines and 
just made it a much pleasanter place ’cause it 
was just like this [shoulders hunched, hands 
close], you know. It was almost like a slot 
arcade, there was just—. And you like slots, 

you like “21”—I mean the customers—but 
then you like a snack bar and you like a bar 
and you like a—. And now at the Lake we have 
quite an arcade up there—shopping, which is 
real nice. We always wanted that, and never 
had room. It’s such a relief up there (I think 
I mentioned that earlier); to walk away from 
the showroom and walk down—here’s some 
beautiful shops, and it’s very pleasant. 

View from the Executive Suite 

Oh, we were talkin’ a while ago about Noah 
Dietrich. And when I went to Hollywood 
High School, his two daughters, Elizabeth 
and Kay, went there. We were school chums. 
I went with Kay, and I went with Elizabeth 
of f and on. And we were good friends. And 
Mr. Dietrich was such a wonderful man. He 
was extremely friendly and generous, and I 
remember that was Depression, 1932 and ’33. 
And he had a lot of money; he was working for 
Hughes then, and he had a big salary for the 
times. He always had a new car, and they had 
a nice home, and I remember two things that 
impressed me. He was always very nice, like we 
went to San Francisco, and we went here and 
there. And one thing, the Coconut Grove was 
the nightclub at the Ambassador Hotel down 
there; that was the place to go. And they had a 
special rate on Friday night for college kids, so 
we d go and for five dollars—it was Prohibition 
days, but you could go in, and I think it was 
a dollar and a half cover charge, and you 
ordered a bottle of ginger ale or somethin’. I 
remember for five dollars you could get out of 
there, and you took your own liquor. But what 
impressed me about Mr. Dietrich was several 
times—once, I’m sure twice—New Year’s Eve 
we’d go to the Coconut Grove, and have dinner 
and everything. So the check, I remember, was 
several hundred dollars, which I just couldn’t 
believe at the time. 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


Then one time we went on the Hughes 
yacht. Oh, that was— the Hilda, and it was 
a hundred and eighty feet long. And it was a 
wonderful yacht. And it had full complement 
of crew; I think there were thirty in the crew 
all dressed in their white linens, and the 
captain and the chef and the—all the titles 
that there are on a ship. And there was just 
Mr. and Mrs. Dietrich and the two girls, and I 
was there and another fella—one of the other 
girl’s boyfriends. There’re some pictures of us 

The yacht was in San Diego. So we went 
to San Diego, and we got on it and we went 
to Catalina, stayed a couple of days, and then 
we went back to Long Beach or San Pedro, 
where they kept it down there. That was 
really thrilling to—really livin’. And it went 
into the harbor—it was so big it couldn’t 
get in the harbor at Catalina, at Avalon, so 
it was out in the bay, really. The little boats 
had come around, and they’d look to see 
[hand shading eyes], you know. It was my 
first feeling of “celebrityness” (whatever it 
is). I was six-foot-three and I weighed about 
a hundred and fifty-five pounds, I think— 
very tall and skinny, and was just another 
guy. But I remember we went into shore, and 
of course, the little boat from the Hilda that 
took us ashore was thirty feet long and was a 
beautiful thing. 

So the whole pier is just loaded with 
people to see the big people cornin’ off the 
boat. And I’m just a kid, you know, and I’m 
goin’ along. So they’re standin as you got up 
the gangplank, and there was a crowd, and you 
had to kinda squeeze through just a narrow 
passageway, just hundreds of people. So Mr. 
and Mrs. Dietrich were first, of course, and 
the girls and all, and I come taggin up the 
rear, and I’m just goin along. And I remember 
I came along, and they were lookin’, lookin’, 
lookin’. And they saw me, and they spotted 

me, said, “There he is! There he is!” And come 
to find out, of course, they were lookin’ for 
Hughes ’cause it was Hughes’s yacht, and he’s 
six-foot-whatever and, you know, dark hair 
and all, so I guess I did look a little like him. 

So I went, “Oh Golly,” you know, “that’s 
terrible!” And then I thought, “Well, maybe 
it isn’t.” So I put my head up [swaggers] 
[laughter], slowed my pace down a little, and 
strolled up, you know, and looked the town 
over kind of disdainfully. (I’m exaggerating, 
but not very much.) 

But he’s [Dietrich], you know, is still goin; 
he’s ninety years old. And he called me, and I 
called him back, and he was talkin’ about that 
suit he’s in on down there, and he said if they 
won it, why, would we be interested in some 
hotels, and I told him, “Of course,” but—. 
He’s Cornin’ up, he said in a few weeks; I’ll 
get together with him. He’s just a nice man; all 
his life he was a nice man, just—he deserves 
everything he’s got. 

On the other Hughes thing—I didn’t 
discuss that with Maheu and all that? Yeah, 
Robert Maheu. He called me—I forget how we 
got together. That’s when Hughes was buyin 
everything, and Maheu wanted to see me; I 
said, “Okay.” At the time I think I owned all 
of Harrah’s; there was no outside stock. So 
the board of directors didn’t meet with him 
or anything, just he and I. And we talked, and 
they were interested in buying. Maheu was 
very interesting; he was a very sharp guy. 

And, “Do you wanna sell?” 

And I told him, “No,” and, “but,” I said, 
“anything’s for sale, but,” I said, “I don’t want 
to sell. I’m happy with what I’m doin’, and I’ve 
got a good business, and—.” But I said, “I don’t 
believe in saying something isn’t for sale.” 
I said, “If you want to pay me double what 
it’s worth, I’ll consider it, but it’s no bargains 
around here.” And they got an awful lot of 
bargains in Vegas because they were owned by 


William F. Harrah 

some off-color people down there, and I think 
the state put a little pressure on ’em possibly, 
and they kinda had worn out their welcome 
anyway, but they made some wonderful buys 
down there, very—half—fifty cents on the 

So then they were—Hughes was — 
interested up here, but it didn’t work out. They 
didn’t really want to pay anything. But we 
made offers, or they made an offer, or I quoted 
’em a price. They tried to knock it down, and 
I said, “No.” 

But it was so much fun with Maheu, and 
it was always— he’d come out to my house 
at two in the morning a lot, and he would 
pretend to call Hughes, which I really think 
he was, and he’d say, “Well, Harrah says this,” 
you know, “Harrah says that,” and so on, so on. 
Then he’d get an answer back, and uh—so—. I 
really think he was talkin’ to Hughes. But, as I 
said, it didn’t work out, which is fine; I mean I 
didn’t really want to sell anything. It was fun, 
while it went on, ’cause then you didn’t know 
much about him, you know. And now it’s all 
come out; I guess he was pretty sick these last 
few years, but—. He really liked to buy things 
for nothin’, I’ll say that [chuckling], which 
nothin’ wrong with that; I like to do that, too. 

But you never met Hughes personally? 

No. What was so funny, when Dietrich was 
there—and Hughes was a young playboy then, 
you know. And he had several Duesenbergs 
and a Doble Steamer; he had a lot of neat 
cars. And I wasn’t anxious to meet him; he 
was a celebrity in those days. But the funny 
thing—I would pop over to these girls’ house, 
and when you’re goin’, you know, you’re a 
friend of the family, you don’t call, you just go 
over, you know. Or I’d take one of ’em home, 
or I’d be pickin’ one up or somethin’ and 
we’d play tennis (we did all sorts of things), 

horseback—. So I was in and out of there, 
you know, six times a week, somethin’ like 
that. And I would go, and I wanted to meet 
Hughes, you know; I didn’t say, “I want to 
meet Hughes,” but I really wanted to ’cause 
he was a big shot, and he had these neat cars. 

I’d get there, and they’d say, “Bill! Mr. 
Hughes just left five minutes ago,” which can 
happen. And it happened again he just left, 
then, “Oh, he’s cornin’ over. He’s heard about 
you, heard you’re a car nut; he wants to talk 
to ya.” 

And, “Fine.” 

“Can you wait around?” And so we’d wait, 
and of course, Hughes was his own boss, so 
at three o’clock he’s supposed to be there, he’d 
get there at three or he’d get there at four, he’d 
get there at six, whatever he felt like. And, you 
know, usually I had a job or somethin’, so I’d 
hang around an hour, maybe, waitin’ to meet 
him, and I’d have to go. And then the next day, 
they’d say, “Right after you left, here he came,” 
but I must have missed him five or six times 
just by five minutes. Maybe it was meant to 
be that way, I don’t know. It was fun; it was 

What kind of competitors are they next door ?— 
the Hughes corporation? 

Oh, Harolds isn’t much competition— 
hasn’t been for years, really. It’s just another 
place; it isn’t run very good, and they don’t 
run it any better. It’s been kind of a bum place 
for—you know, it’s not crooked or anything, 
but just another place now. It used to be 
“Wow! Harolds Club!” you know, but now 
they’re just another place, really. I guess some 
old-time people that come to town want to see 
Harolds Club, but I don’t think they amount 
to much any more. We count ’em, and like 
we have at least three times as many players 
at one time as Harolds Club now. 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


What kind of competitors do they make 

Oh, they’re not very good, as operators, in 
my opinion. Up at the Lake they’re just, uh— 
they don’t treat their help like we do, and they 
don’t treat their customers like we do. And 
they operate more like Vegas, you know— 
push the people in, crowd ’em in. They have 
some real bad shows up there. By that I mean 
not necessarily dirty, but maybe real noisy and 
late starting and things like that—you know, 
just kind of a sloppy operation. And they’re 
that way in Vegas, which most people are, 
most operators. But generally the operators 
in northern Nevada are far superior to the 
operators in southern Nevada. Southern 
Nevada is just take the money and run, you 
know. Not so much crooked; I don’t think 
there’s much crookedness any more—just, the 
heck with the people, you know. 

MGM has imported a little of that, Of 
course, they opened too early, but from what 
we’ve seen, they have that philosophy of just 
get the people in, get their money, get ’em out, 
get some more people. Not repeat business, 
just bring in another bus load, another plane 
load and, you know, get their money and get 
’em out, and another, another, which is kind of 
the Vegas philosophy. There are some places 
in Vegas that go for repeat business, but most 
of ’em are just conventions and, you know, a 
bunch of tourists, and give ’em what you gotta 
give em and get ’em out. 

We hear that just all the time, from many 
of our customers (this is over ten, fifteen years, 
well, twenty years we’ve had the South Shore 
Room) —you know, and we’ve gone out of 
our way to treat ’em nice. And they enjoy it, 
and they come up quite often, and then after 
several years they’ll go to Vegas, you know. 
And they’ll come back just horrified that 
their reservation wasn’t honored the way it 

should be, and they got a terrible table, and the 
waiter was rude, and the room was noisy, and 
the food was lousy, and the star maybe was 
very, very dirty; and they just—shocked that 
they’re those kind of places. And you know, 
not all places are bad in Vegas; there are some 
not too bad. But there’s a philosophy that— 
well, it’s not only Vegas; it’s, oh, worldwide, 
I guess. And some countries are better than 
others, and some cities, like New York is just 
terrible; it’s about the worst there is—courtesy. 
And like London, there’s a lot of courtesy in 
London, and not so good in Paris; Italy’s pretty 
good. People knock Italy, but I have good luck 
in Rome. So there’s a national philosophy, and 
then a city philosophy, like New York is just as 
I said—terrible. The smaller cities [are] much 
friendlier, you know. We went cross-country 
in ’76 in our cars, and we stopped in all these 
little towns, you know, and it was just the 
way it used to be, you know—backbone of 
America. And you’d walk in, “Oh, hello! Hi, 
how are ya?” you know, “Howya doin’?” and, 
you know, “Whatcha gonna have?” and just, 
you know, friendly. And not acting, just, glad 
to see ya. A lot of people like that. 

So maybe that’s part of Vegas’s problem, 
is they’re so big. I don’t know. I’m not gonna 
worry about it [chuckles]. 

Where do we go from there? 

You had a rather sophisticated business 
organization before you went public. Would 
you like to describe how that came into being, 
and then give some descriptions, character 
sketches of some of the managers through those 

Yeah, we grew just as businesses that start 
with six employees that get to thousands, 
grow; they just get more, and you get the place 
next door and all that sort of thing. But the 
management end of it—we didn’t grow that 


William F. Harrah 

way; we still tried to operate the old way, and 
we knew we were spinnin’ our wheels. It was 
real bad. It was Bob Ring and I were runnin’ 
it, and of course, Rome Andreotti was here 
then, and so on. But Bob and I were the guys. 
And we knew we weren’t doin’ it right. And I 
think I read about the George May Company 
that—they were called “business engineers,” 
and I think I read about ’em in Time magazine 
or something, and that they could come in 
and look at your business and tell ya, you 
know, Gee, you’re doin’ it that way; it should 
be this way, and so on. 

So we got in touch with them, and, they 
came in, and they really turned us around. 
I mean just—we were doin’ so many things 
it’s unbelievable, just like a bunch of little 
kids, you know. It’s just what it evolved, just 
hit and miss, you know. And our chain of 
command and our management chart and 
all that was just—we were just terrible. It was 
amazing how well we were doing with our 
organizational setup. And I was handling 
many details I shouldn’t’ve been handling; 
Bob was, you know—that should’ve been five 
levels below us; but we’d always done it, so we 
were still doing it. So we were working ten, 
twelve hours a day and just workin’ as hard as 
we could and still the things were piling up, 
you know. “What’s wrong here?” You know, 
somethin’ wrong. 

So they were excellent, except as those 
engineering firms are (all I’ve ever run 
into)—except this was a real gyppo outfit 
or something, in that they wouldn’t get out; 
that was their policy. And they’d come in, 
and they’d say, “Well, this survey’s gonna take 
maybe six or eight weeks or four weeks, six 
weeks.” And it was so much a week—it was 
expensive— like a thousand dollars or five 
hundred dollars or well, maybe a thousand, 
or maybe more. But then their six weeks went 
by and nothin’ happened, and, “Oh, now we’re 

into this. Gee, we gotta study this on the food 
department,” or the so-and-so department. 

And so bein’ polite, and it’s new to Bob 
and I—’’Okay, tine.” 

Sol think they went along at least twenty 
weeks. And instead of five thousand dollars 
it was thirty thousand dollars. And they’re 
still—and there’s more and more of ’em all 
the time, and the bill went up and up, and—. 
And actually their policy was just to come in 
and keep things—and there were plenty of 
things to find, no question about that. But 
they’d still be here if we hadn’t kicked ’em out. 
It was their policy, and so finally it was—I hate 
to do that (or I don’t any more; I’m tougher 
now), but then I hated to be impolite. Finally 
I went (yelling), “Goddammit Get outa here, 
you guys! Give me a bill and get out! Go down! 
Get in the elevator, wherever; get out!” And I 
just—it’s the only way they would move, and 
so it was good and bad. And they did us a lot 
of good, but they left a bad taste. 

So a few years went by and we wouldn’t 
even have anything to do with those. And then 
I read another article, where there were some 
very good ones. McKenzie in New York—. 
So I tried to get them, and they were kinda 
snooty then. We’ve since used them several 
times. We were a gambling casino, and they’d 
never handled a gambling casino, and they 
were kinda—. So they didn’t do us, but we 
got some other outfits, and I can’t remember 
their names. Then periodically, maybe every 
couple of years, we’d get ’em in for a few—and 
we’d lay it out at first—it’s so many weeks, so 
much money—and we had good success. And 
some were better in one field than the others, 
so we must’ve had four or five or six or eight 
of ’em. And we still use ’em, various kinds. 
And they were fine. 

We’ve learned to every two, three, four 
years to come in and take a look. And gee, 
this was good four years ago, but now we’re 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


so much larger and this and that, and the 
fellow that handled that department was no 
longer here and so on. But anyway, they’re 
super, and that’s why we are as efficient as we 
are; we get credit for being very efficient and 
our accounting system and all that, which, 
of course, is our doing, but the incentive 
came from these concerns, these business 
specialists, I guess you’d call ’em. They’re just 
super. I recommend them to a person with 
twenty employees. Just things, you know— 
you do it this way and you do it—well, that 
isn’t the way you should do it. And then when 
they showya, you think, “Oh!” [snaps fingers], 
you know [chuckling], “course, that’s the way 
you should do it. This is dumb.” So they’re just 

Primarily, we have our procedures, and 
then the rest of it has just been as business 
opportunities arise, why I’m very proud of 
jumpin’ into ’em. Like when we went to the 
Lake, why, that deal was made in a week, I 
think. And we’ve made other deals. I’ve always 
thought, you know, expansion-wise, and I’m 
always puzzled (I really am today, too) at 
people, like they’ll work for years and they 
save some money, and then they get into a 
cleaning business or a restaurant business or 
a car business, whatever. And they work real 
hard, and they have a partner or they don’t 
have a partner. And most businesses fail, but 
some are successful. So they’re successful, and 
they’re doin’ fine. They’re makin’ money, so 
they get their bills paid, and they’re still makin’ 
money, and they get a nice house to live in and 
nice car to drive and so on—you know, they 
do that, but then that’s it. And they still run 
their hamburger stand, or they’re still—and 
they go play golf, and they work hard, but 
they run it (when they get the wrinkles out of 
their belly, as they say) like they were workin’ 
for somebody else. Well, example I’ll give 
you is—can’t remember his name—nice guy, 

too—president of the chamber of commerce, 
a good citizen. You probably know him. He 
owned the Jeep agency before we got it, and 
his father started it. Remember they are on 
West Fourth Street there? 

And he built the new facility out here that 
we have now. And I thought, “Wow! Look at 
that! Isn’t that wonderful?” But I kept in touch; 
I drove Jeeps and all, and they had this little 
lousy facility on West Fourth there. It was way 
too little, and it wasn’t right, and they closed 
on Sunday, which was dumb, and he was 
never there on Saturday or Sunday; he went 
hunting, and just—whoever was runnin’ the 
place. And it was just terrible, and I couldn’t 
believe it. 

So then they went out here and built the 
new one; I thought, “Oh, hooray!” ’cause 
I kinda liked the guy. “Hooray, he’s gettin’ 
his—” you know, “he’s gonna start workin’,” 
’cause his father—and his father died or got 
out of it, and he was the heir apparent. He 
wasn’t runnin’ it good, but he built a beautiful 
thing out there. 

Well then we learned it was for sale, and I 
couldn’t believe it. So we got in and we bought 
it. And come to find out that the Jeep people 
had insisted that he do it—he had this lousy 
facility, and Reno growin’—and said, “If you’re 
gonna keep the line, you gotta build a better 
agency,” which car companies will do, and 
quite properly. 

And so he’d been forced to build it against 
his will, and then he had to work—he got in 
it; it was very expensive. So to come out on it, 
hell’s] gonna have to work seven days a week, 
and he didn’t want to work seven days; he 
wanted [to] just work three or four days and 
go fishin’ and huntin’. And I just can’t believe 
it—. And we got it at a very bargain price, just 
’cause he was strung out and lazy, is the word. 
I’m always amazed at that, and there’s a lot of 
people do that. Well, a lot of people are lazy, 


William F. Harrah 

plus they don’t have vision— of course, there’s 
no reason. If you do have a real nice clothing 
store and you’re doin’ fine and your family’s 
happy, why, who am I to say you should have 
twelve of ’em, but I don’t think that way I’m 
always interested in who’s next door [laughs] 
and who owns the property! We’ve done 
that—I don’t know if you’ve heard about it, 
or I’ve probably told you about Ketchum and 
Stanley, Idaho, and same thing. And we buy 
this place, and then we look at the guy next 

And more often than you think, things 
kinda fall into place, and it’s not all luck 
either. It’s just lookin’, and usually there’s—not 
usually—quite often or many times, there’ll 
be a little Achilles heel there somewhere. The 
place looks pretty good, but the partners are 
fighting, or the husband and wife are fighting, 
or maybe they’re overextended, or maybe 
there’s a health problem, or—you know, there’s 
a lot of opportunity if you really look. We’ve 
just done super in Ketchum, and we’re— 
haven’t any money yet, but we’re sure gettin’ 
the right spots. We have a whole block there 
now. And we just started with one little store, 
and just click, click, click. And, of course, Bob 
Hudgens handles that, and we have fun doin’ 
it. It’s almost like playin’ Monopoly. It’s what 
we did here in Reno, only it’s much tinier scale 
there because there’s no casinos. 

So getting back to a business philosophy— 
that’s what it is. And of course, people say, 
“Well, how do you do all this?” And really 
the bigger you are, it’s so much easier. There’s 
a department—advertising, Mark Curtis; and 
the employees, Rome Andreotti; and future 
building, Bob Martin, and—. In the old days, 
why, gee whiz, you know, employees, that’s 
me; and building, that’s me; and licensing, 
that’s me; and the number of crew that come 
to work, that’s me and Bob. You know, you 
had to do so much yourself, and you really 

weren’t capable at much of it. But now Mark’s 
an expert on advertising, and Bob Martin’s an 
expert on planning and hiring the contractors 
and all that, so it’s a department. I just say 
[gesture, handing over], “Hey,” which is 
one thing about being successful, and many 
people can’t do that, is delegation, and I’ve 
always been real good at that. I’m proud of 
that— is delegate. And there’s a saying on 
that that’s very fitting; I think it’s “Organize, 
deputize, and supervise.” But the “supervise” 
isn’t exactly right; there’s a better word for 
that. “Organize and deputize”—let ’em run 
it. But keep a little—. Like we have our daily 
report; that’s how we keep in touch. Don’t 
just give to them and then come back a year 
later and discover that it’s this, that, and the 
other; you have to kinda—like a child—look 
over their shoulder just to be sure. But don’t 
lead their hand or anything; let ’em do it. The 
more they do, the better, and it’s better for 
them, they’re happier, and they’re stronger. 
But still you just can’t—until a person’s been 
forever, and then—well, even so, like Rome, 
he has his strong points and he has his weak 
points, and which we all know—he knows 
it, too. He’ll get a little this and that, and on 
some things, and you say, “Hey, Rome, get of 
f of that!” you know, “Get on the big picture.” 

[Chuckles] Rome is a workaholic. Rome’s 
desk looks like this [heaped up]—don’t ever 
pass anything on it you can do it yourself, is 
his philosophy! And [laughing] we work on 
him and work on him! He has plenty of people 
under him, you know, but he just—that’s the 
way he is. I don’t do that any more; that’s 
Lloyd’s job. But he really has to get on Rome 
once or twice a year. I mean Rome really 
works extremely hard, and he’s very, sensitive, 
so you can’t—’’Goddammit, Rome! Quit—.” 
You gotta say, “Now, Rome, don’t you—?” 
’cause he’ll get real—”Oh, everybody’s mad 
at me.” He is a wonderful guy. 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


Rome Andreotti worked next door at the 
Frontier Club (that was Pick and Joe Hobson’s 
place) as a check racker and then a wheel 
dealer, and he was a super wheel dealer. And 
we got acquainted, and he came over in ’48. 
I don’t remember who hired him—might’ve 
been [Warren Nelson]. 

Yeah, I think Warren might’ve hired Rome. 
But Rome didn’t really—no education, but he 
was just a super wheel dealer and got along 
fine with the public, and was very interested 
in all the games, and is today. I guess he’s our 
foremost gaming authority. [If] somebody 
wants to talk about the odds on the Roulette 
wheel or the Crap game or “21,” why, we’ll 
call Rome. Your card counters, all that sort of 
thing—that’s Rome Andreotti’s department. 
And he knows all the answers— everything 
but slots, and that’s Bud Garaventa. So it’s so 
easy. And then Rome and Bud work together 
on the number of machines and so on. 

But it’s really very easy nowadays. But, 
course, we have good locations (that’s very 
important), and then we’re very competitive 
minded. Like MGM came to town, that was 
a whole new ball game. Every competitor 
changes things; that’s the big change in 
Reno, of course, and we didn’t know what to 
expect. Well, we kind of had ideas what would 
happen, but—. We check them like we do; you 
know, up at the Lake we know how many “21 ” 
players Harvey has at ten in the morning, and 
down here we know how many players MGM 
has at ten in the morning. 

It’s very important; it’s important to know 
how your competitors are doing. And you 
know how you’re doing, what’s the difference, 
you know? And then occasionally, “Oh-ho! 
They’re gettin a lot of ’21’ play, and ours is 
down a little. What’s goin’—what’s wrong 
here?” you know. “Find out real fast.” And then 
you can find out. And it’s usually either— well, 
they’re doin’ somethin’ the players like or—. 

It’s one thing that Harolds Club had that 
was very, very good, and we never did it, and 
I don’t think we ever would. But I the old days 
of the Smith family, they were very lenient, 
and they didn’t have all the controls we have, 
and they lost a lot of money. But they had a 
lot of people in there; it was the place to go, 
and it was just full of people. Pappy Smith, 
he said things, but one thing he said, he said, 
“Yeah, we don’t really watch—have all the 
lookouts and have all the people, you know.” 
He said, “We have to win the money twice,” 
which meant they’re beat, and then they’d 
get cheated, and the employees’d steal, and 
the players’d steal, but still the volume was 
so huge—and a lot of people were gettn the 
best of it, and like some of the games—not 
necessarily cheating, but the dealer’d make a 
mistake, and there was nobody to correct it, 
so they’d, you know, get a little extra. And of 
course, they’d lose it in the long run, which he 
meant by having to win it twice. And at that 
time it was very successful. But that wasn’t 
our kind of an operation; it was just sloppy. 
It was very successful, but it was sloppy. And, 
we prefer a little tidier thing, and (you know) 
you win the bet, you get paid, and you lose the 
bet, we get it, and that sort of thing. And you 
can get a big volume; we have a big volume. 

But Pappy and Harold had some good— 
Harold gets criticized a lot, but he wasn’t too 
bad. Pappy was the overall brains of the thing, 
but Harold was real good, and down on the 
floor and sayin hello to people and shakin 
hands and buyin drinks, you know—in his 
day, before he got goofy. But he was a good 

course, Raymond I., he was kinda fun. I 
told you about him, I think? Yeah. He was a 
real weirdo, really—so many ways. Didn’t take 
him long to get goin on somethin’. And I’m 
that way, too, like—it looks like a good idea, 
let’s get goin! Let’s call somebody today and 


William F. Harrah 

start diggin the hole tomorrow, and that sort 
of thing, you know—which I really can’t do 
any more, and it’s really not too good, but—. 
But he did a lot of that, and many cases it 
didn’t work very good, but many cases it did. 
He didn’t believe in holdin’ back too much. 

course, you couldn’t—he had his own 
thinking, and I never argued with him or 
anything. He was a lot bigger guy than I was, 
and I went along with him always, but I sure 
didn’t agree with a lot of his philosophy. 

Tell me about some of the other people that you 
had in the organization before it went public, 
before ’71—what they were doing and what 
they were contributing to the organization. 

Then how much did I cover on Bob 
Ring? Well, Bob Ring was president, I 
believe after—I was president for quite a 
while; then I believe Bob Ring was president. 
And Bob Ring did. a tine job, but he’d been 
with me so long he was really my alter ego. 
So Bob was just a carbon copy of me, which 
I liked and he liked. But the policies were 
exactly the same, and the follow-through— 
everything was almost identical—Bob Ring 
or me. Bob was president for a short time, 
but I’m glad he was president; he deserved 

And Gene Diullo (I’m not sure I’m sayin’ 
it right) was a Keno man, came with us when 
we opened. I think he might’ve left us for a 
short time. Opened a bar over on Sierra. In 
the old—what’s the old hotel over there? 

Canton, in the Canton Hotel. I believe they 
had a bar in there. He and some other people 
took Jackson over there, which irritated me a 
little bit. But they were kind of a phony bunch, 
which Gene caught onto right away, and came 
right back. He was only over there a week or 
so. He’s been with us ever since, an excellent 
Keno man. 

As the company’s grown, why, he’s grown 
right along with Keno. Where we used to have 
one, why, we now have gosh knows how many 
Keno games. 

Okay. Well, there was Red Farnsworth. 
He was quite a guy. He was the only—see, 
Bob Ring and. I are about the same age, and 
Rome’s a little younger. But Red Farnsworth 
was ten or fifteen years older than any of 
us. I think he came out of New York, and 
I forget how we got ahold of him. But he 
was extremely hard worker, and he had 
no education, but he understood people. 
And I think he’d been a carnival man or 
something. But he was really our first 
industrial relations, only we didn’t even call 
it that, then. But any labor problems we had, 
Red handled ’em. And he was kinda hit or 
miss, but he was such a hard worker—and 
he was pretty smart—that he’d just work ’em 
out. He got—which was very important—he 
got the confidence of the employees. I think 
he had the Joe Average employee—I think 
they had more confidence in Red than me or 
Bob Ring or anybody. They would just—he 
was the guy. So you have a problem in some 
department, and Red Farnsworth’d walk 
in, and it would just—just his walking in 
would— ’cause everyone knew he was very 
fair. And if you’re an employee and you’d 
been pushed around a little by a supervisor 
or somethin’ (which can happen; that was 
before we had the board of review), Red 
would find out about it, and boy, he’d stand 
up for you against anybody. And if you were 
wrong, why he’d do that—and he was very 
thorough. He wasn’t superficial. He’d go in 
and really get to the bottom; that’s a failing 
I have and lots of people do. But you go in, 
and here’s this, so and so happened, and such 
and such. Okay, so and so happened, such 
and such—this the way it is. Well, maybe it 
did, maybe it didn’t. And he would dig in 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


and dig in, and if it was true, that’s the way 
it was; and if it wasn’t true, he would follow 
it up. 

And then he also—another good point 
he had was he wasn’t afraid to act. He wasn’t 
always doin’ where you thought, “Oh, 
Goddamn, look what Red did again!” But if 
there was a problem— he’s up at the Lake and 
there was a problem, and he figured it out; 
then he would act. And he’d fire somebody, 
or he’d do somethin’ and—you know, instead 
of say[ing], “Oh, hey, we got a problem here,” 
you know. And then so many people’ll do 
that, and say, “Well, so and—well, he should 
be fired.” 

Then you say, “Okay, fire him.” 

Then they say, “Oh, Bill told me to fire 
you,” you know, that sort of thing, where 
they—they’re chicken. 

Okay, Red and Bud Garaventa I mentioned, 
and Rome, and (who else), Bob Martin. 

Yeah, he started with us. He was goin’ to 
the University; he was a football player from 
somewhere. I think that’s when we had the 
football drive. Remember when they recruited 
a little bit here and there? And he came out of 
somewhere and went to the University, and 
he looked like a football player— kind of a 
dumbbell, which he really isn’t, but he looked 
it, you know, and kind of zero personality, 
which isn’t much better now, but—no, that 
isn’t fair; he’s okay. 

But I remember he worked, and we were 
building the casino, our first casino, and he’s 
goin’ to school; and he was a night watchman 
because he needed some money. We didn’t 
want somebody to come in—they worked days, 
you know, and the place was open; we didn’t 
want any wise guys cornin’ and wreckin’ it. So 
we had Bob as a night watchman. And then we 
got open, and he, bein’ a husky guy, became a 
bouncer. He’s been with us ever since. See, that 
opened in ’46, ’66—twenty some years. And 

he continued working; he continued with the 
University, but he continued working. He’s 
been with us ever since, and he’s done many 
things and finally got into construction. And 
I don’t know what his title is. Should I get an 
organizational chart? 

Okay. Well, let me start at the top. There’s 
me and Bob Hudgens, who you know is my 
assistant. And Bob Ring is the vice chairman; 
I’m the chairman. And Bob’s [Ring] duties 
aren’t too much any more. He handles our golf 
tournaments and so on. And Lloyd Dyer’s the 
president, which I’ll get into him later. 

And then reporting to him is George 
Drews, who’s an executive vice president of 
finance and administration. And he’s only 
been with us a few years. And he went to 
school in the East; I think he was raised in the 
East. We looked for someone on finances and 
so on; we were very weak in that department. 
There was nothin’—we did bring people up 
through the ranks, but we didn’t have anybody 
in the ranks that had that, so we brought him 
in. And he’s been fine; he knows the money 
markets and the banks and interest rate and 
all that sort of thing. 

And Holmes Hendricksen is our executive 
vice president of entertainment. He started 
with us at Lake Tahoe years ago as just summer 
help. And he was going to the university in 
Utah, I think the University of Utah. And 
his fraternity’s the same as mine, Phi Delta 
Theta. And we’ve always gotten along; he’s a 
very capable fella. And he was here and there, 
and we had various entertainment directors 
and problems with ’em, and— not major, 
but they were problems. And we felt that an 
entertainment director had to be an ex-show- 
business personality, which wasn’t true. And 
then when Sheppard (who I’ll get into later) — 
when he was president, one excellent thing he 
did was make Holmes Hendricksen director 
of entertainment. And when he proposed it, I 


William F. Harrah 

said, “Well, gee, Holmes don’t know any more 
about entertainment than you do, and I don’t 
know much except what I’ve—experience has 
brought out. Holmes—” you know 

And he said, “But Holmes is good at 
anything,” which he was. So we put him in 
there, and he’s by far the best entertainment 
director in the business. And, you know, 
you don’t have to be able to play a piano or 
anything to be that—important thing is to 
hire the stars that bring in the customers 
and to keep the stars happy, so they come 
back and still at an amount of money we can 

A good example of that or an excellent 
example of that is Frank Sinatra, who is a 
tremendous draw. And he’s temperamental; 
if things aren’t exactly right, why, you’ve got 
problems. And of course, we really try to keep 
things right, but sometimes just something 
unforeseen, not our fault, will come up. And 
Holmes—course Holmes being a bachelor 
doesn’t hurt any because his time’s entirely 
his, you know. Well, like Frank took a bunch 
of people to Europe—to Israel to dedicate a 
hospital there that he built for several million 
dollars. And when they dedicated it and 
Frank—and Verna and I were invited, but 
we were in Australia—but they chartered 
a Lockheed 1011 or whatever it is, and 
three hundred people all went to Israel, and 
dedicated this thing. And Holmes was right 
in the middle of that and just did a super job 
on the thing. So he’s fine. 

And then under Holmes is Mark Curtis, 
who I mentioned earlier, and then a Doug 
Bushousen, who does the entertainment end 
that Holmes does. Between the two of’em they 
make a great pair. 

Then another one on a direct line from 
Lloyd, the president, is Charles Lranklin, 
who’s our general counsel and secretary. 
And for years we had a lawyer or attorney 

firm, and it went way back with—which I’ll 
go into that some, a little later. But we had 
Mead Dixon for many years and his firm, and 
then another thing Shep suggested was an 
in-house lawyer. And at first it surprised me 
because we—Mead called me, called him at 
his office, so and so. But when you get pretty 
good size, there’re so many legal things that 
are just every day, just hundreds a day; it’s 
hard to believe. And so many of ’em are so 
unimportant, just anybody can do it. And so 
Charles is just wonderful at that and kept the 
ton of paperwork away from goin’ down the 
street to Mead’s office; it’s just done right here. 
So that was a wonderful thing, and he’s—I 
was a. little surprised—he’s very capable, 
and he’s still in his thirties, I think, when he 
came with us. And I thought, “Well, gee that’s 
strange—a guy in his thirties would want to 
go, and he’s on salary here. If I was a lawyer, 
I’d want my own firm, and oh boy,” you know. 
But of course there’s two ways of lookin’ at 
everything. And he’s real happy here, and of 
course he’s paid well. And he doesn’t really 
have to worry about clients; he has one, and 
that’s us. In fact his department’s grown; he 
now has an assistant. We have two in-house 
lawyers, plus Mead’s firm. I don’t know 
how many people Mead has, but he must 
have—oh, he has several other top—besides 
the secretaries—three or four lawyers there. 
And I’d say fifty percent of their practice is 

Mark Curtis is under Holmes and Doug—. 
Then under Rome, who I mentioned earlier— 
he’s operations, which is the important thing. 
And he has Mert Smith in Reno and—well, 
go into that. Mert’s been with us many years. 
I’m kinda happy I picked him. We had another 
manager, didn’t work out, and Mert was—I 
forget what he was doing. But what he did 
he did real good. And so they asked, “Who 
should we send—?” 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


And I—”How about Mert?” And we tried 
him, and he’s been [at] that job for ten years. 

And Bud Garaventa’s under Mert. He’s 
our slot guy I mentioned earlier, but he’s also 
gaming; we promoted him, got him out of the 
slots. He has a large department to handle the 
slots, which he supervises, but also in the “21” 
games and the Roulette wheels—he’s in charge 
of that, too. 

Then there’s a Bob Contois, who’s been 
with us many years, is assistant general 
manager under Mert. And Jim Calhoun, who’s 
also an assistant general manager—. When 
you have a twenty-four-hour business, you 
really need a general manager and assistant, 
plus your shift bosses; so it’s a very good setup. 

Then on our industrial relations, which is 
under Rome— that is Joe Specht, who’s just 
excellent. Joe’s been with us I guess fifteen 
years; he doesn’t look that old. But we, as you 
know, have no unions except our musicians. 
It wasn’t always that way. We had to have 
waitresses and so on; we had an election and 
got decertified, and Joe did that; I’m kinda 
proud of that. I know how pleased Joe was 
when we were workin on the election (I don’t 
know if we’ve won it yet), but he never bothers 
me at all; he always goes through channels. 
But he wanted to see me—surprised me, 
kinda scared me; I thought he was gonna quit 
or something. And so he came in—I always 
see anybody like that wants to see me, try to 
get a lead first to what it’s about. But he came 
in and he said, “I just wanted to tell you how 
happy I am to work here because it’s—most 
employers would, ‘Oh, so what? Why bother 
with that? So the union guys are around a 
little bit—so what? Forget it,’ you know.” He 
said, “You really stuck your neck out.” And 
we were picketed for a while, and some of our 
friends wouldn’t come in. It was some work, 
but it was our principle, and we believed in it 
and it worked out. 

And Joe Fanelli’s vice president of food 
and beverage. And for years we had a terrible 
time with our food, and we’d try this food— 
we knew nothing about it. And we’d try this 
fella, and he really wasn’t any good, and a 
lot of ’em are phony, and we just changed, 
changed, changed. All departments, we’d have 
a fella there fifteen years and twenty years 
and twelve years; get to “food,” and he’d been 
there six months, and here’d come another 
one and another one and another one, and 
they were either incapable—of course, there 
was a shortage of good food managers. But 
they really are incapable, or else someone’d 
come and steal ’em. And we’d pay; you know, 
we kept raisin’ the money, raisin’ the money, 
and had a terrible time. 

And, I go to the Mayo Clinic every year for 
a checkup; all the people do now here, all top 
management. That’s in Rochester, Minnesota, 
and right next to it is the Kahler Hotel. And 
they’ve both been there so long, and they’re 
friendly (although they’re not owned by the 
same—). But there is a tunnel from the hotel 
to the clinic, and of course, the winters are 
very severe back there. But you go back and 
you check into the Kahler Hotel, and there’s 
one other hotel they own, also connects; but 
the Kahler’s the one. So you have a nice room, 
and they have restaurants there and the bars 
and newsstand, everything you want in a 

And then you go down in the lower level, 
and there’s a tunnel to the clinic. And it’s very 
handy, and it’s the way you do it. And you’re 
and you have an eight o’clock appointment; it 
takes about five minutes. And like we always 
have the same suite now; it’s on the eleventh 
floor of the Kahler. So we go up—sssss down 
to the lower level and then walk through the 
tunnel and into the lower level of the Mayo 
building. And so my appointment’s on the 


William F. Harrah 

sixteenth floor, and I take the elevator and go 
up to the sixteenth floor and go in there, and 
here I am, and just ta-ta-ta-ta. So it can be 
twenty-five below zero, and it’s no problem, 
so it’s just wonderful. 

The Kahler, they have a coffee shop. And 
that’s just the one hotel; there’s another hotel, 
too, which I’m just talkin’ about the Kahler. 
And they have a coffee shop, and they have a 
restaurant on top; they’ve changed the name 
several times, so it’s uh, something-room 
[Pinnacle]. It’s pretty nice. And then on the 
main floor again, coffee shop, and then there’s 
the Elizabethan Room; that’s a nice dining 
room. And then they have another room that’s 
kind of a combination bar and buffet. And 
they have another room; it’s kind of a very 
light lunch sort of a thing. There’s a tunnel to 
all this; they’re all connected. 

But anyway, plus the room service, it 
was quite a large operation. Plus the other 
hotel—it’s a smaller hotel, but there’s a 
restaurant there and I think a dining room 
and maybe a snack bar. So it was pretty big. 
Well, anyway, Joe Fanelli was the man that 
ran it. And he’s a real friendly fella, so we got 
acquainted with him back there. And he was 
just doin’ a wonderful job there, and the food 
was good, and they didn’t have any casino, 
so they had to watch, you know, their prices. 
And a lot of people go to the clinic don’t 
have too much money, so their prices had to 
be very competitive. But the waitresses were 
always friendly and chipper and remembered 
you from last year, and their uniforms were 
always starched real pretty. It was just a good 
operation. So we got acquainted, and we were 
lookin’, and I remember Rome and I were real 
active in that. Finally we said, “Well, let’s steal 
Joe Fanelli.” So we knew him first-name basis 
then, and he’d been there twenty-one years, I 
think, which—and it isn’t easy. And he’d been 
raised and raised. 

So we made him—and we really did it 
right—made him an offer that was financially 
superior to what he was getting, but it wasn’t 
an awful lot more. And we brought him 
out and had him look around—he and his 
wife, who is a real neat gal, and they’re to be 
admired. They never had any children; they 
adopted five, and all five were handicapped. 
They wouldn’t adopt anybody that wasn’t 
handicapped. And they raised them; they have 
a house of ours that we rent ’em, out here on 
South Virginia, right near my property. In 
fact, I own it now, And I think maybe one 
or two of the kids are gone, but three of ’em 
are still home and they’re handicapped. But 
they’re just wonderful, and they—raisin’ that 

But anyway, Joe came with us, and since 
then it’s just been wonderful. I mean our 
food—it’s, of course, always a problem, and 
we’re much larger now, you know. And we 
have all our restaurants and the South Shore 
Room and the Headliner Room, and those are 
very important because we want good food 
in there. And still there’s that terrible time 
limit, you know. If you come in eight o’clock 
for dinner in the steak house and we’re a little 
rushed, you know, well, we may not seat you 
till eight-ten; then you may not be finished 
till nine-thirty or ten. But we’re doin’ the best 
we can; there’s no big thing. But in the South 
Shore Room and the Headliner Room, most 
people don’t get there till seven, and the show 
starts at eight-fifteen. And by eight-fifteen we 
want the waiters out of the room. We don’t 
want people clatterin’ plates while the star is 
on. We’re one of the few companies that do 
that. So there’s an hour and fifteen they have 
to serve, you know, to get the order and get 
it in and get it out; and still it has to be pretty 
good, so that really takes some doing. And of 
course, Joe handles that, plus all his people. 
We’re real proud of that, that our food is 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


generally pretty good in the rooms, and we 
get a lot of compliments, you know. Well, 
this is a gourmet-type dinner almost, and 
in an hour-fifteen, and all those people. Can 
you imagine at the Lake we’ll have up to eight 
hundred people there for dinner, and most of 
em’ll arrive at one time and they’re go, go, go. 
Of course, a lot of that’s our doing, but also 
Joe’s done that. 

Then there’s Joe Francis at the Lake, 
who’s our general manager there, who s very 
capable. He’s been there many years. 

Another fella down here with a direct 
line to Lloyd is Shep Sheppard, who I’m sure 
you know. He was I think born and raised in 
Reno. And he’s been with us some twenty-five 
years. He was an accountant for many years. 
And then he was very active in turning the 
company around, too; I’ll give him credit for 
that, ’cause I was president for many years, and 
then Bob Ring was president. And in spite of 
these engineering firms, we were kinda doin’ it 
the same old way. And I’ll never forget— and 
Shep’s a very timid person; he’s very—what’s 
the word for introvert?—only the supreme 
introvert, just scared of his shadow. And he’s a 
great thinker but just very timid. So he told me 
he wanted to see me, and I just couldn’t believe 
it—Shep wanted to come in. You know, it was 
always get him, and he’d come in [head down], 
“Whadda you want?” And [he] wanted to see 
me. And as I came in, I could see he was very 
nervous. And I thought, gee, he’s gonna quit. 
And he sat down and kinda got calmed down. 
And I said, “What is it? What—?” 

And he said, “Well, I’d like to talk to you 
about the U company. 

And I said, “What about—?” And we were 
makin’ a million or so a year. 

And he said, “Well, we’re spinnin’ our 
wheels.” And between Bob and I—and Bob 
really wasn’t very good because he’d always 
been so associated with me, and I’d been 

successful, that instead of thinkin’ how to do 
it, Bob Ring, he would think, “How would 
Bill do it?” And so he was just copyin’ me. 
And so I was strong in some things and 
weak in others; so he didn’t help me at all, 
in other words. And we were strong in this 
department, but I’m weak here so Bob Ring 
is also weak there ’cause he just kinda copied 
me. So Shep pointed out many places where 
we were really weak, and I really knew it. 

And I said, “Well, what do we do about 
it?” I said, “I’m happy with my life-style. I 
work hard, but I like my cars, and I like to go 
to Idaho; I don’t want to do any more.” You 
know, “What can we do?” 

And he says, “Let me be president for a 
year or so.” And he says, “I’ll surprise you.” 
And that took a lot of guts, you know, to say, 
“Make me president.” 

And he sounded so good, I said, “Well, 
hey, maybe that’s a good idea.” So I went to 
Bob Ring, and I said, “What do you think?” 
And I didn’t want to hurt Bob; that’s the last 
thing I’d ever want to do. 

And Bob’s always fine, you know; he said, 
“Gee, I’m—” he said, “I don’t really like this 
job, president, anyway ’cause people ask me 
somethin’, and,” he said, “I don’t know,” he 
said, “I always want to ask you.” And he said, 
“Fine, let’s try it.” So we put him in, and he was 
super. In many ways he had his faults. But he 
was super in reorganizing the company and 
getting rid of some deadheads; we had some 
deadwood—and really hopped it up. And he 
had wife problems and emotional problems. 
They were no problem when he was just the 
vice president in charge of this and that. But 
when he got to be president, then the wife 
problems and the other problems— then they 
got to be very important. And the pressure was 
on him, and there was some serious problems, 
so we had to remove mm. And that’s a real 
scary thing because he’s a real valuable man, 


William F. Harrah 

and when anyone gets to the, say at the so- 
called top and, then gets demoted, why, ninety 
percent can’t stand it, you know; they have to 
go to Harveys or somewhere, just no way can 
they stand it emotionally 

And Shep took it very well. And he knew 
that he was in trouble, and the company was 
in trouble. He was so good in political affairs, 
community affairs and real estate; he was 
excellent in that. And he’s very courteous, very 
patient. And like we do have John Giannotti 
(I mentioned earlier)— political—but Shep 
is over John in that. And the legislature’s in 
session, why, Shep’s over there, and he knows 
’em all and they trust him. And in real estate 
he—cept he didn’t get the Santa Fe—goofed 
[laughter]! That’s driving him up the wall, too! 

Okay. Bob Martin, I mentioned. Don 
Stevens is under George Drews, is the treasurer 
who’s capable. And Chuck Munson—I’m 
sure you know Chuck. He’s under Shep; he’s 
excellent in community affairs. And John 
Giannotti at the Lake, he’s a super guys He’s our 
community affairs at the Lake. Hut everybody 
at the Lake and you—California and all this, 
and the bla bla bla. And California—he really 
is tryin’ to pull some stuff up there, but the 
people that John has to deal with all respect 
him and, you know, trust him. 

Then we have another one, Lowell 
Hendricksen, who’s Holmes Hendricksen’s 
brother, another Phi Delt. And he was at 
the Lake for years, and very capable. And 
then HAC has been put in with our aviation 
department and our Middle Fork Lodge, 
which sounds kinda odd. But they fit very well 
because HAC is mechanical, and they’re out 
of the downtown area; and our airport—we 
have a hangar at the airport where we keep 
our planes, and it’s outside also. And then the 
Middle Fork Lodge is also—that’s serviced by 
planes, and that’s out of the same jurisdiction, 
so it works real good. So Lowell’s only been 

out there about a year, but he’s doin’ a fine job. 
It’s entirely new to him, as he was assistant 
manager at the Lake. But he likes cars, and 
he likes—well, he likes business. So he’s doin’ 
a super job. 

Then under him is Ralph Bartholf, who’s 
our chief pilot, who’s just excellent. I’ve known 
him for years. In fact I used to, before we even 
had a plane. And occasionally I’d charter a 
plane, very seldom, but occasionally you have 
to. I always drove to Idaho, but if I was late, 
occasionally I’d fly and I’d hire Ralph to fly 
me and go to maybe a car meet or two. We’ve 
been friends for years. And he went to work 
for us as a pilot years ago, and he’s been our 
chief pilot for ten years, I guess. 

Another one under Lowell is Clyde Wade; 
that’s Cindy’s [secretary] husband. And 
he’s the general manager of the museum out 
there. He’s very capable. He came up the hard 
way (he and Cindy both did), and he was a 
truck driver out there for several years. And 
then he did pretty good, and so he got into 
this and that, and he’s been our manager 
out there for some time. And he knows—is 
a good mechanic. And like, well, we go on 
the Brighton Run every year now—have for 
years—and prior to the program Clyde’ll 
be there to see that it runs right. And so 
whenever it’s important, why, he’s around in 
the car end—very good. 

And then two people I didn’t mention 
under Charles Franklin, our general counsel 
(and he’s also the secretary of the company), is 
Doug Oien, who’s our internal auditor, which 
is important, and Rex Shroder, who’s the 
director of corporate security. There’s another 
example, if you get the real professional—like 
our security—and we had one and we had two 
and we had twenty and we had forty and this 
and that. And they’re, you know, usually very 
good, capable men, ex-policemen, and some 
young fellas cornin’ along. But there were 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


problems in that department. And plenty of 
capable security men that you could put on 
the floor could handle it. But for someone 
to put over ’em that could handle it, and the 
personalities and the problems and scheduling 
and so on, it was—we could never—it’s almost 
like it was before we got Joe Fanelli, just 
new guy, new guy, new guy, new guy. And 
we finally got Rex Shroder, and he was a[n] 
ox-FBI. His whole life had been police work. 
And fact he—well, it’s fun sometimes, like we 
go places together occasionally on the plane, 
and he 11 talk about J. Edgar Hoover; he was 
very close to him for years. And you know, 
you’ve read about J. Edgar, and then some of 
it’s true, some of it isn’t. And he just says the 
way it is, and he’s a great admirer of J. Edgar. 
Hoover had his faults, but I guess anyone of 
us would’ve had ’em if we’d been in the same 
job for forty years. 

But anyway, Rex is just excellent. And he’s 
very realistic, like when my boy, John, went to 
school in Switzerland. So I said, “Now there’s 
kidnappings over there; I’m concerned. How 
’bout it?” you know, “What do you think?” So 
Rex went over with me. 

And we went there, and I was really 
concerned. And Rex looked at this; he looked 
at the school, and he looked at this and that. 
And being an ex-FBI man, he knows all the 
FBI men around the world, and there are 
some in Europe. So he called the FBI man in 
Geneva, said, “I’m Rex Shroder, former—.” 

“Oh, yes. Sure, Mr. Shroder,” da da da. 

And he said, “I’m now working for so- 
and-so, and we have a boy here in school,” 
and, “What’s the story on kidnapping in Italy 
and Switzerland?” There had been none in 
Switzerland up to that time, and then Italy 

So he told him that he wasn’t concerned— 
the FBI man over there—that they weren’t 
kidnapping Americans; they were kidnapping 

Italians, which is true. And then also the 
chief of the district—the police are a little 
different setup than we have here, but it’s 
similar in ways. And like the police— it’s all 
police; there’s no sheriff or anything. There 
is a police—it would be our country, where 
John goes to school, and there’s a policeman in 
charge of that. And I think that overlaps into 
the city of whatever, but—. Anyway, the FBI 
told him to talk to him, and so he did. Rex was 
convinced the man knew his business, and he 
was unconcerned; he said, “We haven’t had a 
kidnapping yet. If we do, we’re ready to move.” 

And then Rex looked over the school, and 
on a twenty-four-hour basis. And then he 
went to the headmaster, and I introduced him. 
And he says, “It looks very good to me, except 
I have a recommendation.” He didn’t say, “Do 
this!” He said, “I have a recommendation,” he 
said, “there is a time when the last—” they had 
a garden or something (it was kinda round), 
and not only workin’ on the lawn, but, he was 
their kind of a watchman around the property, 
and then he went home at six o’clock. And 
then there was someone that kinda did it, that 
walked around the yard till (I guess it was a 
watchman, actually)—to maybe midnight. 
And then he was off. So there was nothin’ 
from midnight till eight o’clock. And Rex said, 
“There should be someone—.” 

And of course, many of the professors 
sleep there, which was the answer he got. “But 
we’re sleeping right here.” 

And Rex says, “I understand that, but,” 
he said, “and this is just a recommendation— 
there should be someone patrolling the 
grounds from midnight to seven in the 
morning.” And I think they did that; I think 
they put ’em on. 

But he accomplished—you know, he just did 
that, and hell, he wasn’t over there a week and 
had it all, you know—and put my mind at ease. 

Okay. You want some more? 


William F. Harrah 

Chuck Munson, for example. He was active 
in the formation and first managing of the 
Industry Association. 

Yeah. We knew him before; we were very 
active in that, and we pushed him, and then 
we stole ’em [chuckles]. Well, if I leave out any 
names here, then eventually they’re gonna 
read it—aren’t they gonna be hurt? 

Okay. Dave Loffswold, I mentioned. 
He’s assistant to Joe Specht. R. J. Lukas is 
the director of food and beverage; he’s very 
capable. He’s a pro; he’s under Fanelli. And 
Julius Weiss is a corporate executive chef. He’s 
under Joe; he’s very capable. And Joe brought 
them in, of course. 

Then Dan Orlich. He’s quite a guy. You 
know, he was a trapshooter; he worked at 
Harolds for years. And then we got to be 
friends with him, very friendly. And it was a 
friendship basis he came to work for us for a 
similar job, about the same money. And he’s 
director of special casino programs, which 
in effect is our junkets. He brings people in 
from—primarily our good ones now are from 
Texas, Mexico, and Northwest— Washington, 
Oregon. We have a lot of those during the year 
on our own planes. Dan handles that and does 
a super job. 

And then there’s Tom Yturbide at the 
Lake; he’s been there quite awhile. He came 
up through the ranks. And he’s assistant 
general manager under Joe Francis. And then 
there’s an Ed Posey, who’s an assistant general 
manager, also under Joe Francis. And Ed is 
one of those fellas—there’re a lot of people 
like that, and they kinda puzzle me in a way. 
But on the other hand, I’m like ’em. Ed, he’s 
a super guy in his job, but he’s just—and he’s 
real young; he’s barely thirty. But when he gets 
around me, he just doesn’t want to look at me, 
and he just gets real nervous. And then people 
say, “Gee, that Ed’s good.” 

And I say, “Well, he acts like a nut, as far 
as I’m concerned!” 

They say, “Well, you make him nervous.” 

I say, “What am I doing, just standin’ 
here?” But he just—it’s real funny. 

Then Don Hill’s director of our plant 
and engineering safety. That was our idea; 
we put him on. That goes way back. Oh, I 
mentioned that earlier that fire chief, didn’t 
I, that retired?—who was a fire chief here 

I think it was [Wagner] Sorenson; he was 
a tall slender fella, very nice. And I’d liked him 
just ’cause he did a good job as fire chief. And 
so we knew each other. When he retired, he 
came to see me, and I thought, “What does 
he want?” 

And he said, “Hey, I need a job.” 

And I said, “What do you want to do?” 

“Oh,” he said, “I’m—you know, I’m only 
sixty-somethin’ and good—I don’t want to 
retire; I want a job.” 

“Fine.” And so, “What?” 

And he said, “Well, I don’t know. I don’t 
have any ideas.” And so we didn’t really need 
a fire chief. Then we got to talkin’ about safety, 
and so we hired him. 

And it was amazing the number of things 
he’d found just the first day, you know, where 
the door and the escape was wrong, and the 
light was out over there. And so we kept him 
for—well, I think, until he died, I think he held 
that job and just turned the company around, 
as far as that was concerned. 

Then we’ve had several—now it’s Don 
Hill. And I just got a memo today from him 
and his daily report, and he said, “I’m retiring 
next month.” “Dear Bill, Bob, and Rome, I’ve 
enjoyed working here,” so and so. 

And we have Bob Martin, I told you about, 
and under him’s Ken Archer, who’s director 
of construction, which he is just super. We 
build something—and course, Bob Martin’s 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


in charge of it; Ken Archer’s the guy that’s 
right down there seem’ that the beams arrive 
on time and all. And he’s just absolutely—he’s 
real cool. And you know, building is just 
almost impossible, unless you’re really in it 
like he is. But he plans ahead, and “Oh, there’s 
gonna be a shortage of this; shipping is such 
and such—.” And so to watch a job that he’s 
doing is just fun to watch it on a daily basis 
because, you know, so-and-so, and this time 
for the fixtures— there they are. They came in 
on the truck yesterday, you know; so-and-so 
and so-and-so and here’s this, and then the 
something—oh, well, we need this. Well, they 
came out on the truck a month ago and put in 
storage because there was a threat of a strike 
back there, and we wanted to be sure and get 
’em ahead of time. So it just goes just like this 
[gestures weaving together], and that comes 
here, and this comes here, and just zzzz, you 
know. When it’s properly planned, it can be 

Then we have a lady, Maggie Beaumont, 
who’s director of fashion and wardrobe. She’s 
been with us many years. I think she was our 
first—well, we had one before her. And that’s 
our uniforms primarily, you know, and they’re 
constantly being changed. If her style’s on, 
then a uniform—a waitress uniform—may be 
good for two or three years. And of course, 
there’ll be many uniforms in that time for the 
same girl, but then styles change and where 
we want to change the looks of them, and 
that’s all Maggie. And she’ll get—and she’s 
excellent—(she kinda bugs me personally, 
but—[chuckles]). No, she’s all right. She’s 
another one that gets nervous around me. 
And I say, “Well, how can you stand her?” to 
the other people. 

And they say, “Well, around us she’s nice, 
but when she gets around you, and she gets 
all (you know) —overemphasizes things,” 
and you know, that, which I just hate. But 

anyway, she does a good job. Well, she’s not 
only style-wise, but she’s cost-conscious. And 
you’ll find—and we’ve had ’em before—that, 
oh boy, this is super; then they get the bill and 
it’s a zillion dollars for just a waitress uniform. 
But she really—and the material—it has to be 
very stylish and still cost has gotta be right 
down there; plus it has to be washable; it has 
to be wearable, you know, so—just super. 

We have a George Poore, who’s director 
of materials management, which means 
primarily buying. Like we bought a new 
yacht for Tahoe, and George was put in 
charge of that. We selected the yacht we 
wanted, the manufacturer and the—. But 
then it was George’s baby. He negotiated 
the contract and the delivery date and all; 
he’s just excellent at that. And he negotiates 
rock-bottom prices; we’ve had other people 
do that. That’s really a profession; they can 
get things at absolutely rock bottom, and still 
the seller is a friend. They’re not mad because 
you knocked ’em down so far. He’s just so 
realistic, and he understands their problems. 
If they’re overloaded on this, he may take a 
little more to help ’em out; and if this is in 
short supply, he may not demand too much 
immediately. He really works with them so 
that—’’Well, yeah, George, with Harrah’s, 
you really gotta get down there in your price, 
but boy, they’re sure easy to work With,” you 

And when things are really in short supply, 
like Alaskan crab or some darn thing, from 
time to time, he’s anticipated it and way ahead, 
and we’re stocked up. And he works like with 
the food, of course, with Joe Fanelli, and with 
the yachts with whoever it is. So he’s super. 

We have a Bill Archer, director of computer 
services. I don’t know anything about a 
computer, and Bill Archer knows as much 
about computers as there is, so about all he 
and I have in common is our first names are 


William F. Harrah 

the same [laughs]! We have our get-togethers, 
management get-togethers, at least once or 
twice a year. I try to say hello to everybody, 
and Bill—you know, we like each other. I’ll 
go, “Hi, Bill, how you doin’?” 

“Oh, Bill, fine. How are you, Bill?” 
And that’s about it! What can you talk to a 
computer guy [chuckling] ? 

Well, that covers the chart, I guess. 

You were saying earlier that you’d had all of 
these problems in the organization that led 
to Maurice Sheppard’s removal or demotion. 
Would you like to discuss that a little bit? I 
mean just to illustrate the kinds of things that 
can happen in a big successful corporation? 

Well, no, it wasn’t so much the problems. 
We were goin’ along fine. Nobody was 
quittin’; the help were happy. But we weren’t 
really expanding any. Like I said, we were 
makin’ a million a year or somethin’. And I 
was interested in my old cars, and I came to 
work every day, and, you know, this and that. 
And we had our stars, and shows changed, 
and the new show and the new this and that, 
and summer and winter, and so on. But that 
was it. Our earnings were going up, but we 
weren’t running—we were, say, running at 
fifty percent of what we could’ve been, if 
we’d all been really [gesture, running], you 
know. And so Shep could see that, and I 
knew— you know, I was—I had a little guilt 
feeling, but—what the heck? I made a million 
and a half last year; we’re makin’ two million 
four this year. That’s not too bad, you know. 
It just could’ve been, you know, a lot more 
than that, so that’s what he could see and I 
knew it. I knew we weren’t doin’ as good as 
we could do, but I was happy. Boy, we’re doin’ 
fine, and—. 

Then you had to remove him. 

Oh, that was real sad. He has a tremendous 
inner thing, and it doesn’t come out. Instead 
of saying, “God damn it!” he will—it’ll fester. 
And oh, it’s unbelievable for a man in his 
position, but maybe he would see him on the 
street, like maybe Bob Hudgens or someone, 
and maybe not see him, or maybe he wouldn’t 
say hello, didn’t smile or something—the least 
little thing. So Shep would come—cornin’ 
down the hail (his office was here), and instead 
of sayin’, “Hi, Bob,” he wouldn’t speak to Bob. 

And then that could go on for a week, and 
Bob would wonder, “That did I do?” And he’d 
come to me, “What—did Shep say anything 
to you about me?” 

“No, nothin’.” 

And, “Well, he isn’t speakin’ to me,” which 
to me that’s awful; that’s little kid stuff, you 
know. That was throughout the organization, 
and it just got—. And then it was Shep’s “s-h- 
i-t list.” And oh, “I must be on Shep’s list,” 
you know. And pretty soon everybody, you 
know—what? It was very bad. And purely, 
just a personality thing. 

It’s kinda cute—well, cute’s the wrong 
word, but we were all, “How the hell do we 
get rid of this guy?” you know. And we talked 
about it, Lloyd, who was, you know, up there 
and very close to Shep, and Mead Dixon, who’s 
my confidant in everything, and Bob Hudgens, 
and—’’What are we gonna do? The guy’s really 
screwin’ things up around here. And what—” 
you know, and, “He’s gotta go, but he’s liable 
to kill himself; you know, he’s very emotional. 
What,” you know, “how do we handle this?” 
And this is going on for months. 

So they went to Australia, and I’d been 
there many times. This time it was Lloyd and 
Mead and Shep; I didn’t go for some reason. 
And, you know, it isn’t necessary for everybody 
to go every time. And they were meeting some 
of the big people there, and not only the—I 
always think of the prime minister, that sort 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


of thing—and also some big people that were 
in finance. There’s one man down there, and I 
can’t remember his name; he’s Sir something, 
very big in bank; he has a bank there, a zillion - 
dollar bank. And he’s very friendly, always has 
been to us. Any money you need, Harrah’s— 
boy, we like you, so and so. 

Anyway there was a dinner arranged, 
and maybe there were six or eight Harrah’s 
people or four or five Harrah’s people, and 
maybe eight or ten or twelve of the others. 
And it was a tonal dining room and so and 
so, this and that. And so there’s gonna be 
kinda little speeches and things. And so 
Shep and Lloyd were together, and Shep 
had flown over—of course, your hours are 
all screwed up—and Shep was very nervous 
about this speech he had to make. So he 
started drinking, which, of course, is the 
worst thing you can do. 

So it’s kinda funny lookin’ back on it. 
They’re rushed; the time isn’t, you know, 
like—and they’re runnin’ and dressing and all. 
And so Lloyd goes to pick up Shep. Shep’s all 
cleaned up, but he’s [drunk], can’t even see! So 
Lloyd is quick acting, and [to] whoever there 
he said, “Boy, we got a problem here! There’s 
no way we can get him sober in time. And so 
Lloyd—he told me, and it’s true—when he 
saw Shep in that condition, he said, “Shep, 
you just blew your job,” which he did, you 
know; here he’s the president of the company, 
he’s over there meeting with these bigwigs, 
and he’s drunk. It’s absolutely unforgivable. 
So Lloyd says, “Shep, you just blew your job! 
Go to bed!” And of course, Shep knew that 
he was gonna blow his job, anyway; so that 
wasn’t too much of a shock. And he was very 
relieved he didn’t have to go to the dinner. So 
he just went and slept it off. 

So Lloyd and all of ’em went. And Lloyd 
and Mead, told me later that—and between 
the two of’em—but they both complimented 

each other. They said, “Oh, Mead came 
through like a (whatever the word is).” And 
then Mead would say, “Lloyd came through 
like a trooper or a Trojan or whatever.” And 
they just, you know, said, “Mr. Sheppard is 
delicate anyway; he’s been to the Mayo Clinic, 
and the flight over and all, and he’s really ill, 
and—. But we can answer any,” bla bla bla, 
and it went off very well. 

And then when we came back, why, we 
asked Shep just, “Give us your resignation.” 
course, we were afraid then— of course, we 
weren’t afraid he was gonna kill himself, but 
we were afraid that—what to do with him, 
you know. And he worked for us forever. So 
that’s when we worked out the—but it was 
kinda touchy there, not gettin rid of him, but 
keepin’ him from, you know. And maybe the 
killing himself was going way -too far, but—. 

So then Lloyd Dyer had come up very fast 
in the organization and was doing great. And 
he had been groomed to be Shep’s assistant. 
Then Lloyd stepped in and has been president 
ever since and is excellent. 

Okay, where do we go from there? 

Tell me about the formation of the corporation 
then, and what made you decide that you were 
going public. 

Oh, yeah. The corporation—you just have 
to when you get above a certain amount of 
money with the United States tax structure; 
you just can’t accumulate a lot of money if 
you’re not incorporated. An individual can 
only go so far, and then you know, you get 
to the—depending on what year it is, up to 
the seventy or eighty percent tax, where your 
corporation is fifty percent or less. Well, when 
you get into the millions, that’s a lot of money, 
so you just have to be incorporated, and 
which can be done legally; and then you as 
the owner pay yourself a salary and so and so. 


William F. Harrah 

So its much better, So that was no problem at 
all doing that. And then there’s certain things 
you can’t do in your corporation that you can 
do as an individual, but you can work around 
them pretty good. 

And then going public, there was two 
reasons for that. One, primarily, I needed 
some money personally ’cause I could only 
pay myself so big a salary. And I could pay 
some dividends, but I needed more money 
than that because I’d had several divorces, 
and divorces are very expensive. And I’d been 
living high, so I just needed money badly. 
And the bank, you know— you can borrow 
and all, but there comes a point where you 
better start (what’s the—) consolidating 
and getting things shaped up. So it was the 
sensible thing. And then the other thing, 
the convincer (I could’ve gone on without 
it)—but the convincer (and it’s a very good 
one) is estate purposes. When a company’s 
publicly traded, why, then there’s—[if] you 
die, there’s a tremendous tax and all. Tax 
has to be paid; well, how do we pay it? Well, 
like if I died tomorrow and a lot of stock of 
Harrah’s, of course, there’s no major problem. 
I own enough where there’s—if there is one 
individual that owns a big share of it, then 
to keep the company from being sold oft 
in little pieces, there’s a ten-year period in a 
case like that, which’ll be very easy to handle 
in my case because my stock can be sold on 
the market. Plus, when they’re evaluating, 
the government wants to evaluate my estate, 
why, there it is. I own so many shares of stock 
and so much, there’s no question; they can 
estimate it within the dollar. And plus the fact 
that there’s a little protection there because 
they’re not always too fair in judging estates. 
And maybe the estate is worth so much, and 
the government comes—”Oh, it’s worth this 
much!” and all, and then you have to get your 
lawyers and fight it out, and of course, the 

lawyers cost a lot of money. I needed money; 
plus for estate purposes it’s much better. And 
it’s not bad really; you live with it, live with 
it. I think it’s kinda good in many ways. A lot 
of our stockholders are customers [laughs]. 

Tell me about the preparations for going public. 
There must have been a lot of discussion. 

Oh, everyone was in favor but me, which 
you get that right away, ’cause many people 
will either consciously or subconsciously 
advise you, oh, you should be public, public, 
public; and the reason—I have a lot of reasons, 
but maybe the deep reason that they may or 
may not know is that they want to own some 
of it. And public they can do it, and private 
they can’t, unless you want to sell ’em some, 

I’ll never forget old—oh, what’s the potato 
king in Idaho? Jack Simplot. I got acquainted 
with him one time; he came into the Lodge 
up there. And he’s a self-made man; he’s a 
zillionaire. I guess he’s worth five hundred 
million dollars. Started in Idaho there, and 
with ranching or farming and potatoes. And 
he got into potatoes real deep and raised em 
and processed ’em and sold ’em and just on— 
the whole thing. He owns the whole thing. 
He since—one or two of his companies he 
sold little pieces of, but he has a whole bunch 
of companies, too. But he and I had a good 
head and head talk, and we were talkin’ about 
that. I think that was about the time we were 
gonna go public. He said, “See so-and-so. And 
we discussed it head and—you know. It has 
advantages both ways. And he said, “Well, the 
one trouble with it,” and he said, “I own it all,” 
and he said, “I get a lot of advice,” and he said, 
“men whose advice I trust, implicitly!— been 
with me for twenty years, just—boy, they say 
it, that’s it.” He said, “Except, where it comes 
to goin’ public.” And he said, “They may not 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


know it, or maybe they do, but,” he said, “they 
want some of it.” And so he said, “I just don’t 
trust ’em there.” 

course, another advantage of public (and 
it’s a big advantage) is people like to own 
something. It’s not a must; you know, you can 
hold people, if you own all the stock yourself 
for one purpose. If they’re paid very highly, 
they still would like to own some of it. So 
when you’re public, then you can give ’em or 
sell ’em some stock—give it to them—which 
we have now; it’s workin’ real good. And that’s 
a tremendous advantage. 

Like you can have a stock option plan, 
which we have, and we just started that. Well, 
MGM maybe speeded it up a little, although 
not much; we already had it in the works. 
But it went in effect this spring. Our very 
top man, there’s not enough money in the 
world to move any of ’em, and I don’t think 
they could’ve moved ’em before that, but now 
they—. And there’s little hooks in it. You get 
so much stock and it’s given to you—here’s 
a hundred thousand dollars worth of stock; 
you know, a pretty big guy—and it has your 
name on it, but you can’t have it for five years 
or maybe six—well, it’s mostly five years. And 
like you quit tomorrow—’’Good-bye, here’s 
your salary; give us the stock back.” And it’s 
your stock; all you gotta do is hold your job. 
And we can still fire you if you go nutty, but, 
you know, we’re gonna be fair about it. And 
those just work super. I don’t know, we—you 
don’t know how good they’re workin, ’cause 
nobody’s left that has that! 

See, like John Ascuaga, he’s the owner 
there, and he owns it all. And he has some real 
good help. But we still have a big advantage 
over John, employee-wise; we never lose an 
employee to John, unless it’s somebody we don’t 
care about. And just because of that, here they 
have a chance of getting this stock, and over 
there they just get a smile and a good salary, of 

course. There’s a big difference there. And you 
can’t do that if you’re not public; private, you 
cannot do that. Except, you know, you could 
give a person a little share or two, but if it isn’t 
sole ownership, you lose all the advantages of 
it. Then you gotta have meetings and stuff. 

How do you feel about your board of directors, 
and how do they feel about you? 

Oh, I like ’em; I was instrumental in 
pickin’ ’em, of course, and our inside—. See, 
Bill Harrah, and Lloyd Dyer, Bob Ring—(let’s 
see, there’s eight of ’em). Huh! Well, Fran 
[Frances] Crumley, she’s the newest. Mead 
Dixon’s my lawyer and all. Ralph Phillips, 
he’s great; he was a former Dean Witter. He’s 
in his seventies now, but he was a big shot in 
Dean Witter stockbrokers; they’re the biggest 
western stockbroker. So he’s great, you know, 
like any stock thing at all, why, he’s all the 

And then Mead, of course, he’s law, plus 
Reno—well, and Art Smith, the president of 
the bank. 

And then Fran—we wanted a lady on the 
board. And we looked—that’s real funny. She’s 
only been on there about a year, maybe less. 
And I’ve know her since Elko and Newt and 
the whole gang. And I used to be real close 
friends with them, and when they had one 
child and two children and three children 
and four children and five children—been to 
their house many times. But we’re lookin’ for 
a lady director, and we looked and we looked 
and we looked and we looked. And so we were 
gonna bring one in from San Francisco and 
bring one in, and then I think it was my—I 
said, “Well, how about Fran Crumley?” 

And, “Oh, gee!” And she’s just fine. And 
she knows her stuff, knows how to read a 
balance sheet, all that stuff, better than I do, 
a lot better. She’s very capable. 


William F. Harrah 

And she does know the resort business. 

Yeah, sure. Oh, Elko’s a neat town. I used 
to hang around there, and Newt, he and I 
were pretty good friends, as good as we could 
be because we really didn’t have too much 
in common. We were both in the gambling 
business, but he— trapshooter, which I’m not, 
and a pilot, which I’m not, or not very good. 
He was a fun guy, always very nice. I’d go over 
there and hang around a few days. 

We have an agenda that’s prepared weeks 
ahead of time. And then you can bring up 
things not on the agenda, but most things— 
like Lloyd recently was invited to be on the 
board of the Sierra Pacific Power Company, 
which he accepted—that’s an honor. But 
he said their meetings—our meetings are 
anywhere from—well, like we had one 
yesterday, and it was ten minutes. But our 
meeting’s never over an hour. Of course, I run 
it and I bang it through. But Lloyd was there 
three hours! That’s a common meeting, and he 
said, “They take up stuff that we would send 
down four levels,” you know, about should this 
be done or that, and just little chicken stuff. He 
was shocked at that amount of detail that goes 
to the board. Sounds to me like—and I didn’t 
discuss it with him, but just sounds to me like 
they have a management problem that a lot of 
people that should be making decisions aren’t 
makin’ ’em, and they’re sendin’ ’em up to the 
board, so, it’s not good. 

But any major expenditure—and a lot 
of it’s kind of rubber stamp, too, like we re 
building a parking thing over here, and that’s 
six million dollars, and it’s all prepared and 
it’s presented to the board and approved. But 
quite often we’re already diggin’ a hole and 
the whole thing, you know. It’s done so well 
that the board is gonna approve it. But it’s 
proper—there are some things that should 
come up to the board, especially when the 

numbers are big. I think maybe anything 
over a hundred thousand dollars really needs 
board approval. And you can set that yourself, 
you know, depending on the company; but 
I think we like anything over a hundred to 
come to the board. I think one time it was 
fifty, which was dumb. I think maybe it might 
even be more than a hundred now; it might 
be five hundred. There are just some things 
that should come. 

Then the annual meeting—when are 
you gonna have the annual meeting; and 
the dividend, you know, how much should 
the dividend be, and—. And then any major 
salary changes, why, they’re board. I don’t 
think they’re absolutely necessary, but it’s just 
a nice, clean way to do it. And a lot of things 
we bring up at board meetings that aren’t 
necessary, except it’s good housekeeping that 
anyone wants to crab, so and so, the hoard 
approved that! Lloyd didn’t approve it; the 
board approved it, you know. So it’s very—. 

Like our meetings, of course, they’re 
friendly generally, or ninety-nine percent, 
just because many of our stockholders are 
customers. Plus we do, do a good job, so the 
meetings aren’t unpleasant at all; they’re just 
a couple of hours, and they ask questions, and 
we—we know the answers. I don’t think we’ve 
ever had a question asked that we didn’t have 
an answer for, except some nutty questions. 
But any fair questions, a lot of it you could get 
out. But some people like to stand up—”My 
name is Joe Blow,” so and so and so and so, 
which they could’ve found out that answer by 
reading the newspaper or reading the financial 
report, you know. A lot of it is just havin’ fun. 
We always have a cocktail party afterwards, 
and so they all play the slot machines, so 
it works out pretty good! We have a good 
turnout at our meeting; you know, there’s six, 
seven hundred people there. It’s not too— 
first couple, everybody was [hand to mouth, 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


frightened], you know. And you’ve seen in 
newspapers and on TV where somebody— 
[yelling] “Oh! Why!” cause they’d never had 
any of that, course, business has always been 
pretty good, and things really get tough—is 
when all of a sudden the company’s losin’ 
money or maybe not makin’ very much, or 
the dividends axe being cut or something. Oh 
boy, then you really gotta explain it. 

It’s a good thing for Nevada—gambling, 
I think. And some of it is not too good; I’m a 
little shocked some of these places that—and 
I’m for gambling, but some of ’em in Vegas, 
and I hate to keep pickin’ on Vegas, but there 
are other places. There are some sloppy 
operations in the state. I like to travel by car 
and drive to Idaho sometimes, which means 
goin’ to Elko, Winnemucca, and all through 
there. And some of the places, I look at ’em, 
and I look at ’em through the eyes of a tourist 
from the East. “Never been here before?” And 
I would be shocked. You know, there’re some 
pretty sloppy, slovenly places, terrible run 
places, that the state should clean up. And 
they may not be cheating, but they’re just kind 
of a disgrace to the—to sweep ’em out once 
in a while, which I guess the state shouldn’t 
get into that. So I’ve seen some that made me 
kind of ashamed at—and they give me a bad, 
bad feeling. 

You don’t bother to count those places or watch 

Oh no, no, no. Just anything that’s 
competition, you want to know what’s goin’ 
on or anything that—where you’re interested, 
and possibly locating. Like we’ve checked on 
Vegas for years, primarily down there—well, 
to get new ideas, plus the show business. 
Know who was doin’ what—that was real 
important. But also we’ve got our eye on 

Vegas, and we’ll probably wind there some 
day. There’s a lot of money there. 

So to answer your question, we check 
things that are of interest to us, like—and 
we check Winnemucca and Wendover. Yeah, 
we’ve been to Wendover many times, been 
to Jackpot many times. In fact I’ve been to 
every—I like those on the border cause we 
were so successful in California, the South 
Shore, that I’ve always liked ’em on the line 
like that. I’ve been on every one in the state, 
where there’s a casino on the state line; I’ve 
been there, and looked it over, astounded! I 
like ’em. And there’s quite a few in the state, 
too. There’s some—Arizona, you know, there’s 
some; Utah; California; and Idaho. 

You were saying that you’d probably end up 
in Vegas sometime. How about some of the 
places out of the state? There’s always the talk 
that you’re going to move into Australia; you’re 
going to move here, there —. 

Oh yeah, yeah. Well, yeah, we’re workin’ 
hard on Australia. And we looked at anywhere 
else, like if it goes into Florida, we’re interested. 
We’re not too interested in New Jersey ’cause 
it’s real unhealthy back there. It’s just gangster 
ridden; I don’t think it’ll ever get out of that. 
Florida, I think, will be okay. And anywhere 
where we can make some money, why, we’re 

We’ve looked at London, and there’s 
money there, but we were a little slow in 
getting in there, and I don’t think we wanted 
to because it’s—. They make some money; 
they make a lot of money. But money isn’t 
everything. But they have such goofy laws 
there that I’d be almost ashamed to have a 
place there. Like the British law, you know, is 
to protect the man on the street, so the way it 
winds up, it’s just for the very wealthy, which 
is all right, I guess. Then the really crazy ones 


William F. Harrah 

are like you can’t have liquor in a casino. So 
you’re sight-seeing, okay—”1 want a drink.” 

“You can’t have one here. If you go over 
there, you can have a drink.” 

And so you have to go in the restaurant to 
get a drink. So you go in the restaurant to have 
a drink. It’s not the operators; it’s the officials 
with their law. So, “Okay, I want a drink.” 

“Well, we can’t serve you a drink if you 
don’t eat.” 

“Okay, well then give me the cheapest 
sandwich you have.” 

No, no, you have to have a full-course 
meal.” I mean, like that. 

So it’s irritating; finally you say, “Oh, the 
hell with it! We’ll go out the door, go down 
the street to a pub, we’ll have a drink, then 
we’ll come back,” you know—just those kind 
of things. 

But England, their gambling is—huh! — 
and they do make some money; I shouldn’t 
knock it. I just hate to operate under a—’cause 
I’ve done that in California with our Bingo 
games—under subterfuge, and you have 
to look people in the eye and tell ’em, you 
know—two and two is nine—it’s not fun. 

Well, we’re interested anywhere. We’re 
so hopeful that Australia will go this year, 
as we’re all set up there with our partners 
(you have to have partners, and we have our 
partner), our location, everything; it’s just 
a political thing now of the timing and the, 
what do they call ’em—it’s like a governor 
of the state, but he’s the prime minister or 
something. And when it’s politically—climate 
is good, he’s for it. And when it’s good, why, 
he’s gonna bring it out, and takes a vote of 
the what we call our “Senate,” only, course, 
it has “House of Lords” or some darn thing. 
And he controls that pretty good, so when 
he says, “Go,” it’s gonna go. And he’s for it—I 
know him personally; I met him three or four 
times—real super guy. 

That’s in Melbourne. And then Sydney’s a 
little different. Melbourne is, I think a million, 
eight. Sydney’s two million, two. Sydney 
had crooked gambling—I mean, had illegal 
gambling. But that’s been closed the last few 
months, and so the climate there is getting 
closer, but it’s quite a ways—further away than 
Melbourne, I think. 

And then there’s another place there called 
Gold Coast. That’s up by Brisbane, which is I 
guess a million [people]. That’s in the north. 
And the Gold Coast, we were there with 
the old car rallye. That looked like Miami 
Beach almost, on a smaller scale—with the 
beach and the hotels and all; I’d love to have 
a place there. Population there is a hundred 
thousand, permanent. And then during the 
season, which is wintertime, which is their 
summer (our winter), it’s up several hundred 
thousand, I guess. So that looked good to me; I 
could just picture a place there. We were there 
several days. 

The beauty of Australia, they’ll be limited, 
talking about one license or at the most, two, 
which is always good for the operator. 

That’s exciting to be thinking about “Harrah’s 

Yeah. Oh, we’ve thought about how 
we’d operate, you know. We’d send our guys 
over, and it takes people to run it. And 
well, would we send ’em permanent, and 
we thought we’d just try it out on a—some 
people might want to stay there. We thought 
maybe at first, have ’em on a six months or a 
year program, I think which should be nice. 
And do it right—let ’em take their family and 
the whole thing. Probably a year’d be pretty 
realistic if they took their family. And then 
at the end of the year, maybe within nine 
months or something, why, “Yes, we want 
to stay another year,” or “We want to come 

From Harrah’s Club to Harrah’s, Inc., 1946-1978 


back.” And, course, it’d have to be worth it to 
them financially. If I was with the company, 
I’d like something like that; if it didn’t hurt 
my career position any, and I could spend a 
year down there, why, boy! And you know, 
you have to be well paid. That’s a long ways 
away, though; that’s sixteen, seventeen 
hours on the plane. So they don’t have much 
tourism down there at all; it’s all just local, 
as tourism is practically nonexistent. It’s just 
too far. 

What other plans do you have for expansion? 
You told me earlier about the Harrah’s World. 

There’s that, and then over here [points 
east] if we can ever get the Basque restaurant, 
which is—that’s some time. I think we’ll 
probably get it eventually because we offered 
three or four times what it was worth, so no 
matter how mad they are with us or whatever, 
why, time’ll cure that, I’m sure. But in the 
meantime, why, we’re—it’s a key piece; it’s 
right in the middle of everything. And we’ve 
drawn plans (cost us zillions) how to work 
around it, and it just—you come back and 
you can do it, but it’s just lousy; it’s like havin’ 
the pig in the middle of the dining room, you 
know. You can do it, but it doesn’t work very 
good [laughing]! 

In fact, we were talkin’ about it at lunch 
today, just what haven’t we done? And 
financially, you can only go so far, and that’s 
it, you know. I think we offered quadruple the 
appraisal, and we could’ve offered ten times, 
but still that’s a lot of money. We have to 
answer to our stockholders, and you get up in 
the millions, you know, you better have some 
pretty good answers. Just can’t say, “Well, I 
thought maybe that might work.” You gotta 
have more than that. You gotta show that you’d 
make it back and all that. Well, it’s just one of 
those things. 

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but 
people say, “Oh, doesn’t that bug ya?” And I 
know, ’cause so many things we ye gotten that 
we shouldn’t’ve gotten, you know. Just at the 
Take, we just fell into place up there. (I think 
I’ve told you that), just one after another, just 
plump, plump, plump, plump, plump. 

And what’s fun is planning things and 
havin’ ’em work out; that’s a lot of fun—having 
a problem, and this isn’t working, and the 
people won’t go to the second floor for lunch, 
and how do you get ’em up there? So you have 
this and that, and that doesn’t work, doesn’t 
work, doesn’t work. And then finally you 
figure it out, and it does work. And that’s such 
a wonderful feeling. People are standing in 
line to get up there to eat; it’s the neatest place 
ever, you know, where before you couldn’t get 
up there with a twenty-dollar bill. And just it 
was one little thing. But the public’ll tell ya, 
if you just give it a try, and they’ll say, “That’s 
awful,” or “That’s good.” And they’ll tell you 
just like that [snaps fingers]. Doesn’t take 
months; in days you can find out. Well, you 
can find out in one day whether somethin’s 
good or bad, just one day. 

It’s just learning to listen to people, isn’t it? 

Well, and observing, you know. They’ll 
come up, and they go, “Ooooh” [gesture, 
turns away]. And then others come up— 
’’Hmmmm.” Maybe it’s too fancy in front 
or, you know, too bright or too dim or too 
somethin’. And when they go, “Oh, wow! 
Hey!” [Gesture, going in] “Look at this!” 
You know. They’ll sure tell you, real loudly 
sometimes [chuckling]. 

I told you about the butter, didn’t I, the 
salt-free butter? [No.] That I discovered on 
my first trip to Europe, and then a second 
trip. Nice restaurant, and the butter—I just 
loved it. And what is that? I knew it was butter. 


William F. Harrah 

And it was the butter they use in London and 
in the fancy restaurants of Europe. It’s the 
standard butter; it has no salt in it. And it’s 
just wonderful. And so I brought it back and, 
can you buy it in Reno? And sure, you can buy 
it. And wow, let’s serve it in the South Shore 
Room, and let’s be classy. With our rolls we’ll 
have this—(what’s the—there is a word for 
it, too). And so then I couldn’t go that night. 
But first thing I looked at in our reports the 
next day was see how it went over. And the 
comments in the South Shore Room (and 
there were many) is, “What’s the matter with 
the butter?” [Laughter] “The butter’s spoiled, 
the butter’s terrible!” What do they call that— 
it’s salt free, but there’s another name for it. 
[Sweet butter] —that might be right, but it 
doesn’t sound right. 

I guess the answer is that even in gambling, you 
can’t win ’em all. 

No. Well, it’s becoming more prevalent, 
though, you know, like you go to San Francisco 
or L.A., a nice restaurant, and you get it there 
now. It has no salt. Well, the reason, it’s more 
expensive ’cause it doesn’t last as long without 
the salt in it, so it gets rancid sooner. 

Well, it’s been a fun business. I think 
I’ve said that— it’s money and people. Being 
successful is fun, of course, and very lucrative; 
and it’s wonderful to have money, do what you 
want to do, not have to worry. Sometimes I 
should worry about the cost, but I don’t any 
more; I haven’t done that in years. When I buy 
somethin’, I just go ahead and buy it and then 
worry about it—or let Bob Hudgens worry 
about it! I don’t do the wrong thing, usually. 
You know, I want to buy my wife a fancy fur 
coat, I just do it, which is a wonderful feeling. 
And fortunately I have a wife that doesn’t want 
every fur coat she sees. 

So it’s been fun, and having money is fun. 
Anybody that says having money isn’t fun is 
not tellin’ the truth, ’cause you can avoid so 
many “standing-in-line” sort of things that 
makes life, you know, more enjoyable. Like 
New York, the chauffeured limo—that sort 
of thing is just so wonderful. Or L.A.—or 
[chuckles] Indianapolis—or San Francisco. 


Harrah’s Tahoe 

And goin’ to the Lake, I told you about 
how that came about, didn’t I? Well, the way 
that came about was, I’d gone to the Lake 
for years and admired it up there, how good 
it was. But the north end I really had never 
cared for too much because it was so hard to 
get to. The south end I liked a lot. I liked to 
go to the north end as a customer, but I never 
got serious about a place there. And the south 
end I liked, but I thought, too bad I wasn’t here 
before because everything was taken. And it 
was all at the state line there. I understood 
that Park owned the land there, and that was 
unavailable which it still is. So I had given up 
any thought of goin to the Lake. 

But I saw how good it was. We had a— 
well, this is real important, I think, that I 
went up there in September, usually, because 
in July and August I was very busy and I 
worked real hard. I was here every day and 
seven days a week and checkin’—that’s when 
we made it. So I never went to the Lake in the 
summertime. I knew it was pretty good. But in 
September I would go, and it would be pretty 
slow, and middle of September at the north 

end would be dead, and the south end would 
be slow. And they closed up usually pretty 
fast. So I—so what?—that’s the way it was. 

Well, then, we started having some 
Horseless Carriage tours, or get into old cars. 
In ’48,1 got the first one, -and then the 50s, I 
really got into old cars. They had tours various 
places which I went on, and so, “Oh, let’s have 
a Reno tour,” which we did. And at tours, you 
invite old car owners to come. And you have a 
package deal; you charge ’em so much money, 
and that includes their room and their meals 
and maybe a cocktail party or two. And you 
drive to Virginia City, or you drive here and 
there, and it’s a lot of fun. So we started having 
what we called the Reno Tour, and we d go a 
different place every year. So one year, part of 
the tour we went to the South Shore, and we 
went there in July. And I remember walking 
in the Gateway Club at the time, and it was 
really a crummy place, just terrible. And the 
business was unbelievable! And just the Crap 
tables were two deep, and the “21” games and 
the slot machines and— it was busy, busy, 
busy. And I’d just that day come from Reno, 


William F. Harrah 

and we were doin’ pretty good. But we had a 
very nice place, and George’s was a crummy 
place; and he was doin’ two or three times the 
business we were. And we were there a day or 
two, and it was—that was the business. That 
wasn’t just that one day; that was there. 

So later I thought, “Well, too bad I don’t,” 
you know. But no way, you know. Anybody 
that has a place here—just not even thinkable 
going to ask anybody if they wanted to sell 
’cause it was just, you know—nobody’d be that 

I wondered if you would like to begin about how 
you decided on going into gaming at Tahoe. 

Did I mention Eddie Questa?—asking 
him which way the town was gonna grow? 
Well, that’s very interesting. That’s how I 
found out about Tahoe because I’d been there. 
I guess I ran out of time on the Horseless 
Carriage in the sunnier, because that’s when 
we had the tour, which I never went to the 
Lake in the summer. But because of the tour, 
I did; and I was at the south end of the Lake 
and saw how well George [Cannon]— the 
Gateway Club. Curly Musso was in there, 
too. They were doing awfully well. And then 
across the street was the Stateline Country 
Club, it was called. And next to that was Bud 
Beecher. Bud Beecher had a club there. The 
old man owned it, which we later bought out. 
But anyway, they were all doin’ super business. 

So I thought, “Well, too late. I should’ve 
been here twenty years ago. It’s too late to 
get a place at Tahoe. Everything’s taken, and 
everybody’s doin’ good; nobody’s gonna want 
to sell.” So I didn’t even think of approaching 

So then, getting back to the museum— 
and I did want to put it somewhere. And 
395 South and Highway 40 at the time were 
both, I think, two-lane roads—or four-lane, 

but they weren’t developed too good. Then it 
was really a question which way the town was 
gonna grow. And I asked Eddie Questa, who 
I admired very much. So I came to see Eddie 
right in this office and I asked him. I said, 
“Which way is the town gonna grow—east, 
west, or south?” 

And he thought, he laughed and thought. 
He said, “Well, let me think that over, Bill.” He 
said, “I really haven’t thought about it, but I’ll 
think about it.” And then he said, “By the way, 
did you know George’s Gateway Club is for 
sale for five hundred thousand dollars?” 

I was amazed, and—I don’t [know] 
if Eddie said the five— yeah, he said five 
hundred. And I was amazed that it was for 
sale and that it was that cheap. 

And then I asked him for a name of a good 
realtor. And he said the best one he knew of— 
he said there were plenty of’em, but the one he 
liked—and was a real straight shooter— was 
the fella who started the shopping center out 
here— you know, Park Lane—Ben Edwards. 

Well, anyway, Eddie said, “See him.” So I 
called him, and I guess he came to see me. He 
was a real go-getter. I told him what I wanted. 
I wanted a hundred acres or whatever. And 
he’s the one that said, “By the way, did you 
know that George’s Gateway Club is for sale 
for five hundred thousand dollars?” 

And I said, “Boy, if that’s true, you got a 

So we went from there. George didn’t own 
the property, but he had I think a twenty- 
three-year lease. I always liked to buy the 
property, but his lease was long enough that 
I figured, “Gee, if it’s any good, I can make 
enough money to buy it,” which is the way it 
worked out. So it was just a lease, but it was 
a long lease. And so we went to work on it, 
and this Ben was a super guy at puttin’ deals 
together ’cause there were all sorts of subleases 
to be signed, and there were three or four 

Harr ah’s Tahoe 


partners, and there was a restaurant there 
that had three or four partners in it, and just 
on and on. And the partners were married 
and had to get their wives’ signatures. And 
Ben just worked twenty-four hours a day just 
about, put the whole deal together in less than 
five days. And we had the place. And that was 
in January of’55. Then we opened around the 
twentieth of June that year. 

What did you have to do to get ready to open? 

It was a terrible run-down place—just 
awful. Slot machines weren’t any good, and 
it was a quonset hut. And it looked like a 
quonset hut, and we couldn’t afford, or we 
didn’t want to tear it down, but we covered 
it so you couldn’t tell it was a quonset hut. 
We put a false front on it, so you couldn’t see 
the round part on top; and then inside we 
cleaned it up, really made it nice. Cleaned up 
the restaurant, and put in some of our typical 
Reno slot machines, made the odds on the 
games the same as Reno (the odds up there 
then were tougher than Reno just because 
of the short season). We made ’em the same, 
which was a very good idea. And then the 
place at the Lake was an instant success—one 
of the few we’ve had where we didn’t have 
to really push hard to make it go. It was just 
needed up there. It was full from the day it 

But then when Labor Day came, it really 
fell off, and there was hardly anybody around. 
And so that’s when we started running 
buses—Greyhound buses and refunding 
part of their ticket—which worked out very 
successfully. And we still do that today. In 
fact, at one time (I don’t know if we still are), 
we were the largest customer of Greyhound’s 
outside of the armed services. But we ran—I 
think like the other day, we ran seventy buses. 
But I think at first, there, we really built it up; 

we got up to several—over a hundred and 
some a day—Sacramento, San Francisco, and 
Lodi, and all those little places. 

It’s kind of a nice thing, but we’ve been 
criticized (not too strongly) on buses, but a 
little bit. A critic could watch the people up 
there, and they’re all older people and— said, 
those pensioners, you’re taking their check 
and all, and that’s—. Well, they’re enjoying 
themselves, and they ride up on the bus, and 
everybody knows everybody from previous 
trips, and so on. So that’s the lady that hit the 
big jackpot, and that’s the man that did so- 
and-so and so-and-so. And they visit all the 
way up and go in, and they go to their favorite 
slot machine or their favorite “21” game and 
have a nice lunch and play some more. More 
of them lose than win, of course, but some of 
’em win. And then when they go back on the 
bus at two in the morning (whatever), a lot of 
’em are sleepin’ and some of the winners are 
braggin and some of the losers are crabbin 
and it’s just—. But it’s a nice day’s outing for 
them. I can’t see it hurts a thing. 

Was that your idea to start the buses going up 

Yeah, that was mine, yeah, that was— 
everybody said, “You’re brilliant,” but really 

That darn guy, [Ben Edwards], too! He 
wouldn’t listen to me, which was—. He drank 
pretty good—a little too much— but he got 
the job done. He smoked those cigarettes like 
they were goin’ out of style, and I really got 
on him about the cigarettes. And he—”Oh, 
yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah”—you know. Then he 
fell over; it was too bad. Boy, he could put a 
deal— he was like a bulldog chasm’ a rat on 
a deal. He was just goin. Like I said, all these 
partners and their wives—and you have to 
get the signature. Ben would just go to the 


William F. Harrah 

house and, “Excuse me, I know it’s Sunday 
night at nine o’clock, but it’s very important 
we get this paper signed. Here it is,” and get 
it. And so many realtors or people on deals 
will say, “Well, it’s Sunday, it’s late, we’ll do it 
tomorrow,” you know. Then Monday, why, da 
da da; Tuesday—it could drag on for months. 
He’s just quite a guy. 

He was a good man. He was good for the 
City. Well, imagine at that Park Lane, you 
know, all those landowners out there. And he 
had to run around to them; those were—that 
was a big deal, you know. And they—long¬ 
term leases, and some would sell, some 
wouldn’t—boy! I think it’s Sonner Greenspan 
is the manager. He was [Ben’s] guy; he was his 
assistant, yeah. He’s a good man. 

Anything more that you want to say about the 
early days at the Lake? The other old-timers, 
the people who were your competition up there. 

Yeah, I have a story on Harvey [Gross] 
that’s pretty good. He’s a competitor. And I 
can say good and bad about him, but you can 
say good and bad about all your competitors. 
Lately Harvey and I are—he’s a year or so 
older than I am, but we’re gettin’ up there. 
And we’ve mellowed. So I run into him at 
various events once or twice a year, and we 
have a drink together and shake hands and 
smile and remember the old days—oh, ho, 
ho. And oh, we’re buddy-buddy. But Harvey 
was a tough competitor in many ways—still 

But one story I like to tell on him and bust 
his bubble—of course, he’s a multimillionaire 
now, which is fine. But one time he had this 
little tiny place up there, and I was there in 
the off-season, i remember he stayed open all 
year. He says he is a pioneer up there, which 
I guess he is because he did stay open all 
winter. But he had about four slot machines 

and one “21” game, and it was Harvey and 
another fella and they ran it. That was it, 
which is okay. 

But then one year things were pickin’ up 
up there. I think it was right after the war. 
And Harvey—it was either a dime machine or 
a quarter machine, which he didn’t have. He 
had about ten slot machines. And he wanted 
to know if he could borrow, I think it was a 
quarter machine till his came in. And I said, 
“Yeah.” I didn’t rent it to him; I just let him 
have it, which was no big deal. Maybe it was 
a dime machine. 

But then months went by and I didn’t get 
my dime machine back, and so finally I called 
him up. And I said, “Hey, where’s my dime 

He said, “Oh gee. I’ll send it back to you.” 

I said, “Okay.” And it didn’t come, and I 
didn’t need it; but then it started to irritate 
me, and I didn’t get it back. 

So I asked him—no, hadn’t come in. So 
then I called him up again. I was really mad—I 
don’t get too mad, but I got mad. I said, 
“Harvey, are you gonna send that machine 
back, or do I have to come up and get it?” 

And he said, “I’ll send it back, I’ll send it 
back!” And he did, but—. I don’t remind him 
of that any more, but when he gets putted up 
with his millions, why, I think about it and 
have my own little laugh. 

Isn’t that kind of unusual for somebody to 
borrow a slot machine? 

Well, it was right after the war, and there 
weren’t any of’em—it was just what you had. 
They were gettin ready to start to make ’em 
again, so they were just—you couldn’t buy a 
new one, you had to buy a used one, and they 
were all in business, So for a year or so there, 
it was real tough to get one, but he just kept it. 
I think he forgot it, probably. Harvey’s okay. 

Harr ah’s Tahoe 


What’s the difference between competition 
there at the south end and what goes on at the 
north end? 

Well, they’re competitors with each other; 
they’re not competitors with the south end. 
People that go to the south end—they aren’t 
the same people that go to the north end 
(maybe they are today, but—). See, the north 
end, you can’t get to. I like to say that, ’cause 
I don’t have a place there. But it’s—south end 
is easy. The road isn’t the best in the world, 
but you just get on Highway 50 and forget it, 
where the north end, you have to watch for 
the turnoff and take this so-and-so and go by 
what is it—the ski—Squaw Valley and keep 
goin , and it’s just—if the north end of the 
Lake was on Highway 80, look out! That’d be 
super. But it isn’t, so—. 

Did you take all that into consideration when 
you were thinking about buying at the south 

Oh no. Just the south end was for sale— 
well, I knew the south end was ten times 
better than the north end ’cause our tour 
would go to the north end the sane day—I 
could see what was happenin’ up there. 
And it was just—well, the north end wasn’t 
comfortable because it was squeezed in on 
that little narrow road and the Lake right 
there—it was pretty—and the mountain, and 
there was no room for parking, there was 
no—it just wasn’t a fun place. And I would 
love to have a place there but it was just—. 
The south end, there was plenty of land, 
plenty of—an awful lot of trees in there. And 
they hadn’t bothered; really, that’s amazing— 
this George’s and Stateline Country Club—all 
of ’em—they could cut ’em—there was no 
Forest Service—no whatever it is that you 
have to go to today. 

And they just said, “Why don’t you chop 
down a tree?” 

And “Oh,” they said, “they can park up 
the street.” People are parked all over every 
which way. 

And we went in there, and I asked— 
see, that was under a lease. So I went to (I 
mentioned his name) the senator in Carson 
City, Ken Johnson. I remember I went to Ken, 
and I said—you know, he owned it, and I 
had the twenty-three-year lease. “Ken, those 
trees,” da da da. “Can I cut some down?” 

He said, “Sure.” 

And I said, “How many?” 

He said, “Cut ’em all down if you want to.” 
He was super; as long as I paid the rent, he 
was fun. And I did; I cut ’em all down. And 
there were plenty around. Oh, no, I didn’t 
cut ’em all; there were a few that did no good 
to cut down, so I left them, of course, But I 
cut most of them down and put in three or 
four hundred parking places. And the rear 
entrance where people could—kind of made 
a tremendous thing—just people poured in. 
’cause I knew—I was up there; I had a car. I 
had a terrible time parking. That’s still true 
today. A lot of people don’t—you see as you 
travel around; you see a place that doesn’t have 
any parking, and not doin’ too good. 

Did you just lift a staff out of here and carry 
it up there? 

Yeah, mostly. But I mentioned Curly 
Musso earlier; he was a partner of George. 
And Curly didn’t want to sell out. Curly liked 
it there. But as his partner wanted to sell, 
Curly went along. I don’t know how they 
worked it out between themselves. 

And then Curly went to work for us right 
away. And he worked out fine. He was kind 
of the old school over the— might’ve run 
a strong game (I don’t know that he did). 


William F. Harrah 

Curly just worked out beautiful for us, and he 
worked until he retired a few years ago. And 
he still lives at the Lake, and he comes around; 
I see him four or five times a year. He comes 
to all our shows. When any of our executives 
retire that amounted to anything, we might 
give ’em a gold card, which is for our good 
customers, but we also give gold cards to our 
excellent employees. And that’s a card—it is 
gold; it’s not real gold, but it looks like gold. 
And it’s metal, and it has their name on it, 
and it’s good for a comp at any of our shows 
or restaurant or anything like that. And they 
would be—Curly would be—comped anyway, 
if he went to the show just because of who he 
is. But still, having the gold card is quite nice. 
He was delighted at that. 

I guess most of the people at the Lake 
outside of Curly, we took up from here. Rome 
Andreotti spent a lot of time up there. And 
Lloyd Dyer, the president, went to work up 
there as a summer job during his college 
vacation. That’s how he started, but he started 
at the Lake. I guess about everybody up there 
we took up from Reno. And like most things 
like that, where you move executives around 
(which lots of national companies have the 
problem), you find that there were many 
people in Reno that wanted to go to the Lake 
the worst way, that liked the sailing or liked 
the scenery or liked something, and there 
were many others that didn’t want to go to 
the Lake at all, didn’t want any part of it. But 
good of law of averages took care of that, so 
we managed to find plenty of help for both 
places. It was a very successful place at Tahoe. 

Did I tell you the story about my father 
and the letter? Yeah, he wrote me a letter. 
He didn’t write me much ’cause we saw each 
other quite a bit. So when he wrote me, it 
was usually fatherly advice, which wasn’t 
too much—he’d kind of given up on me by 
then. But I bought the place at the Lake and 

opened it up; then he wrote me a long letter 
(he always wrote longhand), and you knew 
his letter when you saw the envelope ’cause 
his left-handed style. And “Dear Bill” (this was 
when we opened in Tahoe), it said, “I think 
you made a big mistake in going to the Lake, 
’cause you had a lot of problems in Reno, and 
you finally got ’em straightened out. And you 
got everything paid for down there, and you 
got some money, you’re independent for life 
(if you want to be). But no, that wasn’t good 
enough, you had to go up in the backwoods 
up there [chuckles], take on this thing—you’re 
way in debt” (which I was), so-and-so and 
so-and-so. And I don’t think he said, “You’re 
a damn fool,” but it was a real strong letter. 

So I was impressed, but I knew that, you 
know, it looked good and it was good. And so 
first year, that place up there made a million 
dollars on its own. And I had a statement on 
that, ’cause we kept them separate, which we 
still do—and it showed a million, hundred 
thousand or somethin’. So I got a copy of that 
and a copy of my father’s letter, and I sent 
it to him. That’s all, just his letter to me and 
the statement for a million dollars. And he 
got a big kick out of that. He told everybody 
he knew about so—da da da da. Which in 
a way was a good example of us, ’cause I 
was really kinda—he was very conservative, 
which says—I don’t mean that derogatory, 
but that was his nature. And he was careful, 
and he never made a lot of money real easy 
like I guess I had; so money came harder, 
why, you watched it better. But he was more 
conservative than me. 

What special kinds of problems or satisfactions, 
arrangements did you have to make in 
establishing a branch? 

Well, we just had two operations instead 
of one. It was really—you just do what you 

Harr ah’s Tahoe 


have to do. And you had two operations. 
We went back and forth, which was one nice 
thing about it, ’cause all top executives got 
nice automobiles to drive and my automobile 
became a business deduction for the first time 
in my life, which was very pleasant. We had 
established good communication and teletype 
and all that sort of thing, so we kept in touch 
real good what was goin’ on. So the operation 
wasn’t too difficult. 

One of the things that happened that same year 
was that the legislature passed the Gaming 
Control Board law that made a regular 
investigatory agency. 

As far as the state and all, we just went 
along. We were always a good operation, so 
whatever the law was, why, we just went along. 
So it was no big deal with us. And I’m sure 
we probably crabbed about more paperwork, 
more this and that; but it wasn’t—no problem. 

Then, of course, another thing about— 
small thing—about being at Tahoe and Reno 
is you go through Carson, every time you go; 
so it used to be a big thing goin’ to Carson, 
almost. And with our new operation we were 
there—everybody was there— several times 
a week. Plus something we’d done ever since 
(which is good) is like we go to see all the 
shows—or I do, or most of the top execs see all 
the shows at the Lake. Our headquarters are 
in Reno, but we a Tao, to get out of our shells, 
which everybody needs to do, including me, 
we’ll have—board of directors will be one 
month in Reno, and next at the Lake, and then 
our various other meetings. Entertainment 
meeting will be one month in Reno and one 
month at the Lake, and that way we do have to 
circulate, which is very good. So it really hasn’t 
been very difficult operating both of ’em. 
Another thing that’s extremely handy about 
it, the places are far enough apart (and they 

draw from a somewhat different clientele) that 
we can use our same stars at both places. And 
of course, our Reno room isn’t quite as large 
as our Tahoe room, so we don’t pay quite as 
much money; but many of our stars because 
of friendship and whatever, will work both 
places—like Jim Nabors and Sammy Davis 
and just about all of ’em have worked both 

In the meantime, our club at the Lake 
really wasn’t— it was an old quonset hut, as 
I said, and there was Stateline Country Club 
across the way, which had a lot of land, or 
more land than we had, and also was a good— 
at least from the outside it looked pretty good. 
It was an old, old, building. But it was a real 
nightclub, and Sahati had it—Eddie and 
(there were two Sahatis). Yeah, there were two 
Sahatis up there; there was Eddie, and [Nick] 

They owned the Stateline Country Club, 
and they ran it just awful. They were crooked 
and full of shills and everything, but it was 
a nightclub. They owned the property and 
had made a failure of it, and Eddie was quite 
a player himself. In fact, he came in here in 
our place and won forty thousand dollars one 
time, which was the biggest loss we’d had. But 
they owned the property over there, and they’d 
made such a mess of it that [Nick] Sahati was 
the orneriest man I ever met in my life, an 
absolutely rude, crude, push, shove, spit, yell, 
scream—you name it—just absolutely no 
manners, morals, or anything—just an awful 
guy. And that’s the reason that he failed in the 
place, but they owned the property. So they 
leased it to some operators from the Bay Area 
who weren’t very good. There were two or 
three of ’em; I don’t remember their names. 
But these fellas, they got in the lease, and they 
knew how ornery this Sahati was. They didn’t 
think they could get along with him, and they 
thought they might have a successful thing; 
they weren’t too open with him. So they had 


William F. Harrah 

an option in the lease to buy the property for 
so much money 

Well, we were doin’ real fine on our side of 
the road. Next to us was Harvey’s, who was a 
strong competitor. Then across the road was 
the Stateline Country Club. And next to that 
was the Nevada Club. That was right on the 
line; that was a little place. Stateline Country 
Club was quite a big place. It had a showroom 
and everything. And that had been—that 
was there when I first come to Nevada, just 
about— old-timer. He just ran in the summer. 
And it was a real crooked place. 

And, let me think, who owned the Nevada 
Club—it was Bud Beecher. 

But anyway, the Stateline Country Club 
was crooked; it was a terrible place. And it 
changed hands all the time, and it was just 
dirty. Bad news. And then there was a place 
next to it, a little hole in the wall. Well, it 
was called the Main Entrance because it was 
between Beecher’s Nevada Club— Beecher’s 
Nevada Club was right on the line across 
the street, and that was an honest place, 
and they just ran in July and August. That 
was Bud Beecher, and I forget the father’s 
name; he was quite a guy. And next to that 
was the Main Entrance, which was a little 
tiny place, and it was real crooked. And next 
was the Stateline Country Club. And that 
was crooked. They were bad for the area. But 
we were doin’ fine. And Beecher was a good 
friend. He liked to run in July and August; we 
ran all year. And then he would go to Palm 
Springs. And he made a lot of money ’cause 
they had pretty high limits. They had a good 
reputation. And I’ll never forget—he’d had 
no restaurant. And people would say, “Where 
can we eat?” 

And he’d point right across the street at 
us. He said, “There’s the best place at Tahoe to 
eat.” He would send real good customers, he’d 
send ’em over and pick up their check, and if 

they played over with us, tine; it was all right 
with him. 

So they were just wonderful. And Stateline 
was terrible, and it was doin’ awful. And Nick 
Sahati owned it, who was a real terrible guy. 
But there were some people in there, and they 
had a lease, and they wanted to sell me the 
lease. And it was a three-year lease—or two 
years. And I said, “No! I don’t want that!” 

And they—’’Well, don’t you think it’s a 
good place?” 

And I said, “Well, it could be. But,” I said, 
“two years, and,” I said, “then Nick Sahati’ll 
kick ya out on your ears.” 

And they said, “Oh, no, there’s an option 
in there—an option to buy the property.” 

And I said, “Huh?” And I said, “Bring me 
the lease!” 

And they brought me the lease, and there 
was an option in there. I took it to Mead 
Dixon, I’m sure—”Is that a good option 
or—?” (I don’t know if Mead was with us, 
then. That was ’55—yeah, he was workin’ for 

“Yes, that is a good option.” So we 
bought it. And of course, Nick fought in all 
directions. And then at the end of two years, 
we exercised the option, and, the meantime 
we’d fixed it up. 

And about that time (that’s one of those 
interesting things)—Beecher, you think, is 
gonna be there forever ’cause they’re makin’ 
a lot of money, they’re wealthy and all. And 
Bud, the son, was real sick. He’s still alive in 
Vegas, but he’s real crippled up. I go see him 
every year or so. And his father really ran it, 
and he was real sharp; he was real old but 
real sharp. And then, as old people do, he just 
came apart all of a sudden. I think he died 
suddenly. So there was nobody to run it. So 
Bud called me up, and he and I made the deal. 
And we made the deal in two minutes—’cause 
it was worth maybe two million dollars. And 

Harr ah’s Tahoe 


what it made and the location—and I said, 
“What do you want?” 

And he said, “I want two million dollars,” 
and just zing, zing, zing. 

So we got that place, and we had the club. 
And then there were a bunch of little pieces 
around there, like there was one—I got the 
property from Park, but there was a piece 
right in the middle. 

That—oh, a fella that had—see, Brooks 
Park’s father (what was his name?)—D. W. 
[Wallace] Park—that’s an important name. He 
was a wonderful old guy; we spent a lot of time 
together, and I’d talk to him for hours. And he 
would never say no, but he would never say 
yes. And he never sold a square foot, except to 
this guy. And he was a Basque. But for some 
reason, old man Park liked him, and he sold 
him maybe a quarter of an acre right in the 
middle of everything. So we had this property 
at Stateline; then we bought a piece here and 
a piece there from little odds and ends. But 
this one piece, it belonged to this fella, and it 
was right in the middle of everything, and we 
had a lease on it, of course, And the rent was 
nominal, but it was always short. And here’s 
you know—so we had to get that. And the guy 
that owned it was a real nut. 

So I made friends with him (and when I 
work at it, I can make friends). And I went 
to see him, and he was a real quiet guy and 
kinda bashful, and he was a brickmason, I 
think. And he did wonderful work. And we 
had him do—but how many chimneys can 
you build? [Laughter] He had a phobia that he 
would come in the restaurant, and he would 
get a piece of glass; he’d bring it in his pocket. 
And somehow, he had it worked out real good. 
And then he—”Oh, oh” [gesture, pulls from 
his mouth] (he’d be eating; he always ate at the 
lunch counter), “Oh!” And a piece—and his 
mouth’s cut. And somethin’—it was chipped, 
you know. 

So the first time, “Oh, gee!” you know. 
And then, second time—and this is within a 
year (we settled, you know, for eight hundred 
dollars or somethin’). And then the second 
time, and my guy said, “Well, gee, he’s just a 
phony. You know, he’s done it across the street, 
he’d done it in Carson City, he’s done it all over. 
He’s no good,” you know. “Forget it!” 

And I said, “No, no, no. Pay ’im!” you 

So, “Whad’ya payin’ him for?” 

I said, “Never mind! Pay ’im!” 

So then he would work it—well, he got 
us three or four or five times. And it’s drivin’ 
the other end, you know; they didn’t see the 
whole story, or even if they did, it just drove 
’em up, you know. “Here you’re payin’ a guy 
twenty-seven hundred dollars for nothin’! It’s 
a dirty rob,” you know [laughing]. 

“It’s all right! It’s okay,” you know. 

And then he’d come to me, and he’d tell 
me, he said, “Bill, I’m not,” you know. “My 
friend Bill,” he said, “some of your people 
think it’s phony,” he said, “that’s not true!” 
He said, “I came in and I—” he said, “I know 
it sounds funny, but,” he said, “I bit into that 
hamburger and there was a great big piece 
of glass, and I cut my tongue—” [points to 
mouth], [Laughter] 

So eventually we got the piece of property! 
But the only way we got it was by payin’ of f. 
And he was a good guy, otherwise. He was a 
good citizen, he didn’t get drunk, and he did 
a job for you; he did it, you know, and always 
courteous and polite and every—. But it was 
absolutely—he was a nut in that department. 

But anyway, we got it, and what a relief 
that was, ’cause we owned, you know—I 
think we put eight or ten pieces to put the 
whole thing together. And this one right in 
the middle— ooh! [Laughter] 

Okay. Well, then we—forget when we 
opened that, but we ran em both. But that 


William F. Harrah 

became the Number One right away. And we 
ran the ol’-we called it the Lake Club ’cause it 
was on the Lake side of the road. We just ran it 
summers. And it was profitable, but our main 
thrust was over there. And then it got where it 
really wasn’t too profitable because we split our 
help, and they were runnin back and forth across 
the street, and Harvey [Gross] needed it badly. 

That’s a cute story, too. And he sent Bill 
Ledbetter, who was his Number One guy at 
the time, to see me. And Bill and I were always 
very good friends ’cause Bill was a good, honest, 
straight kid; plus he was super nice to my 
father. Bill and my father were just real good 
friends. They were on the sewer board together 
up there and—just wonderful. I like Bill very 
much; I still like Bill. And he and Harvey had 
a falling-out, which is another matter. 

Harvey sent Bill to see me about buyin’ 
the—’cause he knew the Lake club, we didn’t 
need it. So okay, “Will you sell it?” 

And I said, “Well, I’ll think about it.” And, 
“What kind of—?” 

“Well, uh-huh, it’s uh,” you know—he’d 
never bought much, so he was kinda cute— 
looked like a little high school kid. He always 
looked young for his age. “Well, it’s—” he’s 
tellin’ me all that’s wrong with it, you know. 
“The building’s not very good,” and so on and 
so on. 

I said, “Sure, but it’s right on the state line, 
and it’s a key piece for you guys,” and so and 
so. “What’ll you give me?” 

“Well, I’ll give ya a million and a half.” 

And I said, “Oh, that’s ridiculous! No way.” 

So, he said, “Well, that’s all I’m authorized.” 

I said, “Well, you go back to Harvey,” and 
I said, “I don’t want to insult anybody, but,” I 
said, “it’s just worth more money than that.” 

And he said, “Whad’ya want?” 

And I said, “Well, I don’t really know. But,” 
I said, “you want me to set a price, I’ll set a 

And, “No, no, that isn’t—we’ll make you 
an offer.” 

So then he come back—and this goes on 
for a year or two or so and so—’’Two and a 
half million.” 

And, “Oh-.” 

“Three—.” And I don’t think I ever quoted 
him a price. 

And then, finally Bill was still in the 
picture. And the price kept goin’ up and up 
and up and up and up. And what we really 
wanted—I think we had it appraised at three 
million dollars. And so my guys actually 
were ready to sell it for three million. And I 
said, “Poohy! I don’t care about appraisal!” 
I said, “You just use that when it’s— you’re 
tryin’ to buy somethin’, and, you know, you 
can get it. But,” I said, “to sell somethin’, and 
the appraisal is so much, and you think you 
can get more, I’m not hooked on a price; I 
think I can get a lot more.” And I said, “I’m 
thinkin’ like Harvey—’I gotta have that 

So, okay, I mentally had a figure of five 
million five hundred thousand; five million 
five hundred thousand, that’s a lot. You know, 
that’s more ’n appraised, and it’s worth it to 
Harvey; he can get it back in a few years. 
So that’s my number, but, you know, you 
don’t always want to put it out. So then we’re 
goin—Bill and I—and we got Bill up to four 
and a half. So they went—they got to tour 
and a half, and they sat there for, oh, a year 
or so. And I could just figure, every time 
I’d go to the Lake, I’d think, “Poor Harvey, 
he’s sittin’ there thinking [clenched teeth], 
‘Goddammit! ’” [ Laughter] 

So finally Bill come in, and I was about 
ready to sell it for five, but, you know, what 
the heck?—and we needed the money at the 
time. We had a lot of loans. We needed the 
money. And so Bill come in with the five, and 
I said, “Naw, naw. Five and a half—that’s the 

Harr ah’s Tahoe 


price.” So he knew, it would’ve been a big thing 
in his life if he could’ve made that deal. 

He went out. So then it sat for about six 
months, and then Harvey called me up, ’n 
which Harvey never calls me up [chuckles]. 
And Harvey—”Hi, Bill, ol’ buddy!” (you 
know) “This is Harvey Gross.” 

“Oh, hi Harvey, of buddy!” [Laughter] 

“Can I come and see you?” He said, “I 
want to talk to you about that property.” 
He said, “Bill’s been talkin’ to ya,” and he 
said, “I’ve always said it’s not good—”he 
said, “I made a mistake there. It’s not good 
to send somebody to do your own job.” He 
said, “You and I have always gotten along 
fine.” He said, “I think we can straighten 
this out.” 

So Harvey came down. Harvey was a rich 
man then, and he still is, of course. So I’m 
thinkin’, you know, “How do I work this?” 
And I’d’ve sold it for five, but I thought, “Well, 
I we— we needed the money; we needed it 
pretty bad. 

Harvey come in—”Hi, how are ya? How’s 
your wife? How’s your this, how’s your that?” 
[Laughing] You know—twenty minutes 
worth! “Oh! About that property up there—.” 
And you know—’’Bill, that’s a lotta money! It 
appraised at three million, two—. We offered 
you five, and,” this and that. And he said, “Isn’t 
there some way we can get together? You want 
five and a half.” 

And I said, “Yeah, I think there’s a way, 

He said, “What is it, what is it?” 

I said, “Let’s split the difference.” 

And he said, “Okay!” [extends hand] 

So then he went back, and we heard 
it all over the hill about—’’Goddamn that 
Ledbetter! lie’s down there talkin’ and on and 
on and this and that,” and he said, “I’m down 
there twenty minutes—I make a deal,” you 

know, [laughter] which poor Bill—nobody 
ever worked harder than Bill did. 

But anyway, now we got five, two-fifty 
cash, which was pretty nice—or mostly cash. 
And we needed it. And it was a good deal for 
everybody. But deals are fine—I mean, most 
of’em [chuckles]. 

But then we built the South Shore Room, 
which opened in December of’59, just before 
1960. And of course, that opened—had it 
tough at first; but we did have our big room, 
and we concentrated on our stars. And we 
opened for the Winter Olympics, which was a 
mistake because the Winter Olympics were at 
the other end of the Lake; plus the visitors to 
the Olympics and the athletes were all pooped 
out at night and eight o’clock, it was over. So 
that was a big mistake. 

And then Harvey had hotel rooms, and 
Sahara came along— they had hotel rooms. 
But what money we had, we put into other 
things, which I think we did it right. And 
we—”Oh, you should have rooms,” but we 
had the wonderful shows. And we had good 
acts and we had pretty good food (good as 
anybody, I guess), and we just didn’t have the 
money for the hotel. Like Harvey built a hotel 
in about six months, and it was just a bum 
hotel. You build a hotel that fast, and it was 
just another hotel, just a “Holiday Inn” type 

Then my former wife, Scherry, and I had 
thought about it for years, if we ever built a 
hotel, how we’d build it; and every place we 
ever went that was a nice hotel, we copied 
it— every idea. And I had a file—hotel ideas. 
And like the two bathrooms—that was our 
idea, and just a million things that we saw 
was good. We’d measure the size of rooms, 
and we’d measure the bed, and we’d measure 
this, and it all went into the file. 

So then when we were ready to build 
a hotel, why, we knew what we wanted. 


William F. Harrah 

And we got it, and of course, there was no 
compromise there; I’m real proud of that 
cause that was a little difficult because we 
do have people in our management and on 
the board and all that are the ROI—return 
on investment—’’will you do it that way,” 
and you know, and which Harrah’s can’t run 
on ROI ’cause we’d lose all of the qualities 
that have made us as good as we are because 
our service would go down, our cleanliness 
would go down, our everything would go 
down. And you can’t, so you have to put that 
out of your mind. It’s very difficult; it’s one 
of the most difficult things I have right now 
is to keep up the standard and just—I’d say, 
“The hell with the of ROI!” I mean it’s a good 
idea or it isn’t, and poohy, you know. It costs 
a little more; with the two bathrooms and all, 
a hundred thousand dollars a room for those 
rooms. And of course, it 11 take a while for 
’em to pay. But also, at fifty to sixty dollars a 
day, the rooms are all full all the time, which 
is something—plus the word of mouth we get 
and the write-ups we get, so I think it was a 
good one. I’m proud of that hotel. 

And somethin’ I heard the other day 
that made me feel real good, Frank Sinatra, 
who is a good friend of ours, and people are 
surprised he works ’cause he’s got a lot of 
money, you know; he doesn’t have to work 
much. But we’re friends, plus he gets paid 
good, of course, but we also fly him around in 
our airplanes. I’m proud that he works for us. 
And he’s been everywhere, and he’s without 
any question (and I may try to use it, I don’t 
know)—he says, “That hotel is the best hotel 
in the world.” And it really is. We may not have 
as many restaurants as some, but as far as the 
rooms are concerned, and—I’ve been, not all 
over the world but all the leading countries 
of the world, New York or London or Paris or 
Hong Kong or wherever—and there’s nothin’ 
even close, not even close. 

I’m real proud of that; there’s just nothing 
even—the Mandarin at Hong Kong and all, 
and that’s a nice hotel, and they have excellent 
standards (course, their help is cheaper over 
there), but the rooms aren’t just designed as 
good. And, of course, they don’t have the two 
bathrooms and the—on and on. 

Plus our room service. It’s always bugged 
me, you order breakfast—and it’s still true— 
I’ll order breakfast, and then, well, I can take 
a shower, I can shave, or I can get dressed, 
and it’s not gonna be here; I know darn well 
it isn’t. But it might be here. So I sit around 
and wait and wait and wait, and the clock’s 
goin’ by and I—someplace I want to go, or I 
wouldn’t be up—forty minutes to an hour just 
about anywhere in the world. And there’s no 
reason for it, except there’s nobody seem’ that 
it gets there. 

So we went real strong, and we set I think 
it’s fifteen minutes for breakfast. Fifteen 
minutes, that’s right. Fifteen minutes for 
breakfast. If it’s any longer than that, the waiter 
and the kitchen, everybody has to write a 
report why it was longer than fifteen minutes. 

And it’s real easy to do, too. First you 
have to get the message you want it done. 
See, otherwise it’s just— most room service 
is secondary to the regular kitchen. So okay, 
the waiter isn’t out in the coffee shop, is free; 
he can go up, you know. Ours, it’s set up, and 
also we have here [in Reno], and then at the 
Lake even better. The room service kitchen 
isn’t on the floor; like it’s a twenty-four-story 
hotel, our room service kitchen is maybe on 
the tenth or twelfth floor, so that he doesn’t 
have to go but a couple of floors. And then 
there’s an elevator that’s only for room service. 
Otherwise the guy’s got it tied up with the 
luggage, and the poor waiter sittin’ there with 
the order, and they get no elevator. So they 
have to have an elevator. So all those things— 
it can be done, and we’ve done it. And people 

Harr ah’s Tahoe 


are just so amazed; they’ll order breakfast, 
and zing—the door is ringin’—time you put 
it down. 

course, there are places like that; you 
know, we aren’t the only one. In London, 
especially, it—Savoy—that’s kinda where I 
learned it. And of course, they have a butler 
on every floor (they don’t call him a butler; 
they call ’im somethin’ else). But your room, 
push the button on the wall for room service 
or room waiter—he’s a waiter. You push it 
and he’s there—it’s really fun. I usually have 
the same suite; I think he’s stationed just a 
few steps away. But I’ll push the button, and I 
hardly get my hand away, and he’s unlocking 
the door, coming in—’’You called, sir?” 

I said, “Yes. I would like—” da da da da 
da da da da. 

Hmmmm [gestures writing]. So he’s gone, 
and it’s just around the corner. And you can 
see—you can walk by in the hall, and you can 
see the table set up in there and all, you know. 
So the table’s already set, and the o.j., and the 
so and so, and so and so; and he’s back in ten 
minutes, unless it’s maybe a dinner. Well, then 
like the steaks or something have to come out 
of the main dining room. But like for breakfast 
or lunch—well, mostly breakfast—they have 
the whole thing right there, and t-t-t-t-t and 
here it is, so why not?— you know. Why not 
please people? And it’s no harder, makes it 
better for everybody. We sure get lots of letters 
on it, though. 

And then the two bathrooms, too—plus 
being nice. It’s so many times that we’re 
runnin’ late, you know, and like Verna and 
I, we love two bathrooms. Wherever we go, 
we order two rooms connecting if we can. 
Sometimes you can’t get it, so now we have 
a procedure which we’ve worked out, which 
works real good. Like I’ll get up first ’cause 
I always wake up first. And I’ll tiptoe in the 
bathroom and shower and shave and put my 

socks and shorts on and come out, and like 
breakfast we order the night before—seven 
o’clock. By then breakfast’s arrived, and I’m 
all through with the bathroom. And we have 
our breakfast, and then she wants to go in the 
bathroom, it’s all hers, and all I have to do is 
get dressed. So, you know, you can work it 

But the beauty of it—everybody doesn’t 
plan that way, and most people are running 
late, right? Like you come up, you’re goin’ 
to the Lake, and you’re drivin’ up from San 
Francisco. And you get in Marysville or 
Placerville. And the roadblock and all, and 
the truck and all, and so and so. You get 
there, and you want to be in the show at seven 
o’clock. Well, you don’t get there till five-thirty 
or something, and this and that, you know. 
And so what do you do? And plus, the guy 
usually is the player, not the wife; she’s maybe 
slots. But the guy—and I’m talkin’ about the 
gambling business—so he has to wait for her, 
he has to get in and all this. But he has his own 
bathroom; she has her own bathroom, so she 
can go in and do her hair and she can fumble 
around as long as she wants. And he can rush 
in and take a shower and z-z-z-z [gesture 
shaving]—’’Honey, I’m goin’ down to see if 
our reservation—” or, you know, maybe he’ll 
say, “I’m goin’ down to play. And I’ll see ya 
in—.” So, instead of him being hung up there 
waitin’ for his wife to get out of the bathroom, 
he’s downstairs shootin Craps. So in the long 
run it’s gotta work out. Plus he’s much happier; 
she’s happier [chuckles]. 

’cause everybody’s always late, ’cause 
things take longer, and you know—I’m usually 
on time, but I leave earlier than necessary just 
because of the unforeseen things that—I have 
a horror of being late. 

And there’s a story I like to tell. Captain 
Whittell—I mentioned him before, didn’t 


William F. Harrah 

I? Did I mention when Lloyd [Dyer] and I 
went down to see him, and we were always 
on time? 

Well, we went down to see ’im, oh—Lloyd 
and I must’ve gone down to see him, oh, six 
or eight times, and then I went on my own six 
or eight times to Woodside. And I just liked 
him; I was tryin to buy some property at the 
Lake, but also it was fun. You know, what the 
heck, an afternoon with George Whittell is 
well worth it, you know. And he always had 
story after story after story. I remember ’em 
all—and cars and planes and real estate and 
people and on and on. But I liked to be on 
time. He never told me but he told Lloyd. And 
we would get there, and our appointment’s 
two o’clock, and we’d get there maybe a quarter 
to (and nothing more annoying to me than 
somebody early). And of course, Whittell was 
a cripple, so he wasn’t doing anything except 
sittin’. But it’s still annoying. And so quarter 
to, why then we’d drive and there’s a way I 
could drive around the corner without bein’ 
seen. If anybody’s lookin’, they couldn’t see us 
from the property just in case somebody was 
lookin’ out the window. So we’d park around 
the corner until it was one minute of two, and 
we knew exactly. And so we would drive up, 
and we would drive up in front exactly at two 
o’clock to the second! [Laughs] And he never 
knew how we did it. He thought, “Well,” you 
know, “it’s nice to be on time, but how can 
you—you know, and you have to rent a car 
and get on the freeway and all this stuff—how 
can you get here exactly at two?” 

So finally he asked Lloyd. He said, “How 
can you guys get—” [laughs] 

And Lloyd laughed; he said, “Well, 
didn’t you know we sit around the corner?!” 

And Whittell thought that was the cutest 
thing! He said “Don’t ever do that!” He said, 
“Sit out in front if you gotta sit” [laughs]. 

You were talking about how people are always 

Oh, that was for the reason for the 
bathrooms and all. Well, it’s nice anyway, 
but it pays off really. I don’t know exactly 
dollar for dollar, but plus the public relations 
and family relations, it’s gonna pay off. And 
just the letters, on and on and on. And then 
friends stay there, and they— “Oh!” and I 
love it when they don’t know it. Like I had 
the Schusters, who is the son—I think I 
mentioned him before— son of the man 
[that] drove the Thomas, and they were here 
last week or so. And she’d never been out here, 
and he hadn’t been out here since he first 
came out with his father to identify the car, 
which embarrassed me, so I invited ’em out. 
And they came out and stayed a week. And 
they [were] here and there and everywhere. 
So then we showed ’em, and we went to the 
show with ’em and had ’em to dinner and so 

So then they were goin to the Lake, and 
I didn’t tell ’em a thing about it. And then we 
didn’t see ’em afterwards because we had to 
leave. So we had dinner, then we had lunch 
with ’em out there. And then we said, “Good¬ 
bye,” and “we’ll see you at the Lake, and you’ll 
see” so and so and so and so. 

So then we got a little “thank-you.” They 
went to see his sister or something in New 
Mexico, I think, on their way home. And we 
got a card from there, and she said, “You’re 
gonna get a big long thank-you letter later, 
but this is just a little card,” and she—so and 
so and so and so, “but the two bathrooms at 
the Lake were unbelievable!” And of course, 
they didn’t know it to walk in, and so they 
thought, “Well, this must be the finest suite 

And then the bellman said, “No, no, this 
is our standard room.” [Laughter] 

Harr ah’s Tahoe 


Stars at Tahoe 

We had entertainment at the Lake, which 
we didn’t have in Reno. The Gateway Club did 
have some entertainment. And all the places 
up there had it, and they were what today wed 
call “lounge groups”—except for the Stateline 
Country Club, which was a true nightclub, 
with dancing, floor show, everything but the 
stage lounge. 

Well, then, in our place we put in a small 
stage; we didn’t have too much room. We 
put in the small stage, and then a nightclub 
that seated around two hundred and fifty, 
I think—three hundred—and started with 
entertainment. Where across the street was 
the big names, we just had the smaller names. 
Like across the street, I remember, they had 
the Ames Brothers, which was a big name. 
And we had this and that— the Goofers, that 
sort of act. But it was quite successful, and it 
brought people in. We liked it. 

But then Louis Prima came along, and 
somehow we got him. And he was very 
popular. Louis Prima, Keely Smith, Sam 
Butera and The Witnesses was the group. 
And they pulled people from all over the 
Lake—pulled people up from Reno. So 
they didn’t come on till midnight. And they 
did three shows a night; so they did one at 
midnight and say one at two-thirty in the 
morning, and just absolutely packed the place. 
I went around a few times, say at two in the 
morning, and our casino at South Tahoe was 
full of people. And the bar was full, of course, 
because they appeared by the bar. And the 
whole place would be jumping. And the rest 
of the places around the Lake were deserted. 
It was—he was a tremendous draw. And 
his salary kept going up, and we went right 
along with it because we were doing so good. 
And I remember he was five thousand and 
six thousand, and finally we paid him ten 

thousand dollars a week, which was unheard 
of for a lounge group. I think the biggest of 
big names then got twenty-five thousand a 
week, and that was super big. Dennis Day, I 
remember, at the Riverside, got twenty-five 
thousand, which was—. But anyway, Mert 
Wertheimer (and I think I was living at the 
Riverside at the time), he was an ornery old 
guy. He was tryin’ to get Louis Prima to work 
for him, and Louis was real happy with us. 
And finally he came to me, and he said, “Are 
you out of your mind? Payin’ a lounge group 
ten thousand dollars a week!” 

And I said, “No, he’s bringin’ it in.” Plus 
(which I don’t mind going on the record) 
that Mert was from Detroit, and he’d been 
around pretty good. And he would get on me 
about all of our stars. “Why are you paying 
that man fifteen thousand dollars a week? 
He’s only worth eight.” And Mert would pay 
him eight, and he would give the stars seven 
thousand dollars under the table, which was 
kinda common in the old nightclub days, I 
guess. But anyway, that was Mert’s way. 

And it was so irritating ’cause I didn’t 
want to say, “You’re payin’ ’em under the 
table.” But he would catch me going through 
the lobby, and he’d give me a fifteen-minute 
lecture on the evils of paying fifteen thousand 
for a fifteen-thousand-dollar act when he 
supposedly could get it for eight, only he really 
couldn’t. And I just couldn’t bring myself to 
come out and say, “You’re payin’ under the 
table.” But I would politely listen and then 
go about and do my own business. But it was 
sure irritating. 

Then at least Louis Prima gave me a taste 
of the power of good entertainment, which 
an example is Frank Sinatra today. Just people 
will jam in to see him, and they have money 
and they come. It’s just wonderful. 

By summer, the South Shore Room was 
becoming established. And we could see the 


William F. Harrah 

stars were so important. That was it. You had 
a big star, the people came in; you had a bum 
star, they didn’t. So we went after the big 
ones and didn’t want to pay any more than 
we had to. Then part of it has become our 
reputation. Our policy is treating the stars 
extra-nice, and I guess that’s my philosophy, 
that they are our guests; they’re doin’ us a 
favor. Like any big star doesn’t have to work 
for us; they can work for the Sahara, or they 
can work for Harvey, or they can work for Del 
Webb or somebody. They’re doin’ us a favor 
by working. And most of them, they’re really 
big or independently wealthy; they don’t even 
have to work, plus the fact they just seem like 
good business plus I guess sometimes I am a 
nice person, and I put myself in the position 
of being a star. And I don’t want to worry 
about anything; I want to go, I don’t want to 
have to make a reservation. I would want a 
nice suite or a nice house on the Lake for me, 
which they get. And there’s help to run the 
house or the suite; there’s plenty of help to take 
care of whatever. And then a car to drive, a 
Rolls Royce or—we learned the Rolls Royce is 
kinda “show business,” anyway. Some people 
don’t want a Rolls Royce. About one out of 
ten, they want a Seville or something, which 
of course, they can have. And transportation 
up—like we’ll send one of our jets to pick ’em 
up—and their family—and take ’em home 
after the engagement. And we don’t charge ’em 
for anything—food or lodging or anything— 
except maybe 

At first we didn’t charge for anything, but 
we learned that was a big mistake, as we had 
Marlene Dietrich, and she called everybody 
all over the world. And her telephone bill was 
unbelievable, and so the second time around 
we told her that was over, that we’d stopped 
that policy, which we had. And she paid no 
attention and still called all over the world. 
And our operators didn’t have nerve enough, 

which you can’t blame them for not allowing 
a call to go through. I think Marlene Dietrich 
still owes us nine hundred dollars or somethin’. 
But we do supply everything except things like 
that phone. A lot of stars do, do a lot of calling 
for business and other purposes. That’s about 
the only thing we don’t pay for, which has paid 
off because some of the stars—. 

Some of the places pay more than we do, 
and sometimes they’ll steal one of our stars, 
but the star never leaves without telling us. 
Then if they are offered more—like Red 
Skelton is a good friend of mine. I was the best 
man at his wedding. He opened our room at 
Tahoe. We’re just real good friends. And he 
worked for us here and Tahoe, and then John 
Ascuaga got after him and offered him so 
much—and it was more than we pay a man of 
Red’s drawing ability. He draws so much; he’s 
not Frank Sinatra. He’s down here [gesture] a 
little ways, and so he just wasn’t worth that to 
us. And he’d go in every place; I go see him, da 
da da, “How are you?” And quite often he’ll 
have dinner with me in my home. It is kinda 
fun because I have dinner with all the stars. 
Red works for John Ascuaga, but he comes to 
Reno, he has dinner with me. We’ve lost a few 
that way, but, you know, a thing’s worth what 
it’s worth. And it’s real easy to tell with a star, 
just—first show, you can tell what you got. 

But the show business end of it was a big 
new facet for us because of the pride. It had 
been Bingo, and then casino games and slot 
machines, and then into show business, which 
was really very educational and a lot of fun. 

Which ones do you (besides Red Skelton) 
especially get along with? You’ve mentioned 
Frank Sinatra as being a good drawing card a 
number of times. 

Well, Frank’s okay. We’re good friends, 
and he’s been super nice to us. And I’ll defend 

Harr ah’s Tahoe 


Frank. I think that he’s hot tempered and 
abuses his temper once in a while, but not too 
often, no more than a lot of people. But quite 
often it’s people that pick on Frank, and many 
newspapers, and he takes so much, and then 
he stands up and yells. Our experience with 
Frank—I guess he’s worked for us for five or 
six or eight times now—just a super nice fella, 
but he wants everything exactly so. Which I 
could identify with that, ’cause that’s the way I 
like things—exactly so. And with Frank, we— 
we do that with everybody, but we make extra 
caution to be sure that everything is right, that 
the hotel suite is right and the temperature of 
this and that, microphones, and the orchestra, 
and so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so 
and so-and so. So Frank—and he just loves 
it! He doesn’t have to yell, he doesn’t have to 
scream; he comes in and—or like our G-2 
picks him up somewhere and brings him in. 
The G-2’s in perfect condition, and the Rolls 
Royce or Lincoln is in perfect condition. And 
he gets to his suite, and it’s exactly the way 
it should be. And he goes on stage, and the 
microphone, everything, is just so-so-so-so, 
and it’s his kind of thing. So he’s happy to work 
for us, and we just get along fine. And we pay 
him much less than he’s offered elsewhere, and 
he’s happy with us and because we do things 
the way he wants them done. 

I’ll repeat what I said: tie’s a little hot 
tempered (although I’ve never seen his 
temper), but I think looking back—and then 
whatever things have happened since I’ve 
known him—like the Australia thing down 
there, when he was down there (was in our 
plane down there) , and they got on him 
pretty good down there. And he did make 
one remark that wasn’t taken too well, but the 
press were really buggin him at the time, and I 
think any normal person would’ve reacted the 
same way. They were just insisting on this and 
that, and insisting on interviews right now 

before he could even get off after a eighteen- 
hour trip, or sixteen-, or whatever it is, to get 
to get there. And you’re tired, and dirty and 
wrinkled and all, and they demanded instant 
interviews. Boy! I’d take a little time and—you 
know. So I’ll defend Frank. And sometimes 
he’s wrong, but so far nine times out of ten—. 
And he was dead wrong on that thing at Cal- 
Neva and all that A That was wrong; the rules 
were clearly spelled out. And there’s certain 
kinds of people he couldn’t have around, 
and he had ’em around. Well, he was wrong, 
Frank’s okay. 

But all of our stars I know, and know quite 
well. We have a regular policy where we have a 
dinner with them at their convenience; there’s 
no “musts.” I see the opening show, unless 
it’s a complicated show; then I probably go 
the second night. Then I go down—”How 
do you do? Glad you’re with us.” Then the 
entertainment department feels them out on 
a dinner. Usually they will accept, and bring 
their wife or husband and their kids if they 
want to, and we have a nice dinner in Reno 
at my home or at Tahoe at the Villa, which is 
built for that purpose. And it’s amazing how 
(it’s happened I guess hundreds of times by 
now) the star will come in, and I will dread it; 
and I’ll tell Verna, “Gee, I hate to go up there 

And she said, “Boy do I! But we got to.” 
And then you go up and they come in—and 
I’m sure they feel the same way. But you sit 
and have a drink and look at each other for 
two hours and tell stories back and forth and 
problems you’ve had in your life and the fun 
you’ve had, and Europe, and old cars, and new 

*This refers to Sinatra’s having lost his 
Nevada gaming license for entertaining a 
“Black Book” character at his casino, Cal- 


William F. Harrah 

cars, and airplanes, and Australia, on and on. 
And when you part, why, everyone seems to 
have had an excellent time; I know I always 
do, have a wonderful time. Then afterwards I 
think, “Why did I not want to do that? That 
was fun!”—you know. You get so much inside 
stuff, you know. 

Another real good friend is Don Rickies, 
and his good friend is Bob Newhart. But 
Bob Newhart—that’s an excellent example. 
He’s an extremely funny man; his wife is 
just wonderful. And they’re very close 
friends with Don Rickies and his wife, 
which you’d be surprised, they’ve been all 
over the world together. To get all them 
together and all, and back and forth; and 
it’s just—it’s fun. 

I remember Don Rickies is—you’ve heard 
his reputation of insulting and all that. And 
he’s insulting; in fact, his act sometimes a little 
rougher than we like. But he really— and at 
the end of his act he says, “Oh, we should all 
love each other,” and da-da-da-da-da. But 
Don is really a likable fella when he’s not on 
stage, although he’s on stage all the time; he 
talks all the time. But he’s very funny. And I 
remember when I first met him, which was 
really funny. I was going to a tailor in Beverly 
Hills. This man had a men’s shop, and in the 
back was a tailor shop, and when you were in 
the tailor shop being fitted, you could see out 
the front to the regular shop, which is normal. 
So I was there one day, and I was finishing 
up. I knew he took care of Don Rickies, too. 
I was scared to meet Don, ’cause I heard he 
was insulting, so I never went to see his show 
anywhere. And I just didn’t, I thought, “I don’t 
want to be insulted,” and so I didn’t. Well, in 
walked Don, and he had the fitting right after 
me. And so I thought, “Oh, God, there’s Don 
Rickies,” And so I finished what I had to do, 
all I was doin’, standin’ there. So they finished 
the suit on me. 

So then the tailor introduced me. He said, 
“Mr. Rickies” da da da. So Don was awfully 

So “Mr. Harrah, it’s a pleasure.” 

And I thought, “Oh, brother,” you know, 
“when do the things start?” So I left, and I went 
down the street to get my car, and I’d forgotten 
my briefcase. So I thought, “Oh, my God, I have 
to go backthere.” And I was gonna actually leave 
my briefcase, as I didn’t want to go back, I was 
so scared. But, “Well, I have to” ’cause I needed 
it for the next place. So I just went back, and I 
walked in, and here the tailor is fitting Don. 

And Don’s really goin’ like this [waving 
arms]. And I guess someone had said, “Bill 
Harrah’s a millionaire,” ’cause Don’s answer 
when I walked in was “What do you mean Bill 
Harrah’s a millionaire? He’s a multimillionaire 
if there ever was one! Really!” And you know, 
“And one of the sweetest men in the world, 
and he knows how to treat his—” oh, just went 
on and on and on. And his back was to me, 
he’s doin’ all this, you know. 

So then I went like this [claps hands 
and laughs], and he turned around; he was 
embarrassed, which I never thought I’d—! 
And he said, “Well, I mean it! I mean it!” 

And I said, “Boy, that’s really super!” So 
we’re good friends. We get along okay. He has 
a real neat wife and two kids, and they’re—he’s 
just a guy, that’s how he makes his livin’—he 
insults people. But he really is a nice man. 

You’ve had a few that you didn’t like so well I 

Well, Marlene Dietrich charged those. 

Seems to rue that Ethel Merman didn’t do too 

No. No, she did terrible business. And 
that disappointed me ’cause we tried to make 

Harr ah’s Tahoe 


a deal, and—which any star, or Id say—nine 
hundred and ninety-nine times out of a 
thousand the manager and-or the star will say, 
“See, since were not doin’ it, can we,” [gesture, 
erasing] you know, “do somethin’?” And so 
we went to them; they didn’t do a thing. Fifty 
people, or somethin’—just terrible. 

And went to them—’’What can we do?” 

And “nothin’.” 

And we said, “Well, can’t we call it off?” 


“Well, can we cut the money down?” (And 
she was top number at the time.) 

“Oh, no, we want the money. 

So then that irritated me ’cause they 
wouldn’t compromise an inch. So we closed 
her out and paid—we had to pay her, of 
course. But we just closed the show, ’cause it 
was just zero. That’s, I think, the only show 
we ever closed. Maybe we might’ve closed not 
that big of name but—. I was an admirer of 
hers ’cause she’s done so many great shows and 
all, but apparently word hadn’t got around to 
west coast or something. And then her show 
wasn’t too good; it was a lot of old stuff, nothin’ 
new. It just wasn’t a very good show. 

Lawrence Welk makes it pretty well on old stuff. 

Yeah, well, his music is good; plus every 
show there’s a new number just written last 
week. He’s a smart man. He keeps right on 
top. A lot of people needle him, but, I think 
down in their—well, it s 50 funny, a lot of 
people—’’You know Lawrence Welk? You 
know da da da?” 

And maybe, “Yeah, awful! I’d never listen 
to his show.” And then the next breath, they’ll 
say, “Well, last week so-and-so when they did 
this and that—.” So they do watch his show. 
They don’t think it’s “cool” to watch Lawrence 
Welk. He’s a great musician, I guess; plus, 
a showman. And he juggles the—I watch 

his show every week just because I—well, I 
know all the stars now on a first name basis, 
as I think sixteen years they’ve been coming 
up there, and a lot of the originals are there. 
So you know, sixteen times you get to know 
people pretty good maybe. But we always have 
a dinner for ’em. 

But he also, like some of ’em aren’t too 
good, he puts em down a little; he don’t fire 
’em. And here comes a new star, you know; 
so he keeps—he does it real good. 

Seems to me he really packs them in for you 
about as much as anybody, doesn’t he? 

Yeah, he does. We have guys in our 
organization that just don’t think Lawrence 
is too cool, but he fills the room. You know, 
maybe one second show, instead of nine 
hundred there might be eight hundred or 
something, but it’s real good. And he doesn’t 
get as much as some where he gets paid pretty 
good, but it’s—. And of course, there’s a lot of 
expense with it; those forty people, and we 
have a lot of—. But we still just do fine. And 
it’s a crowd pleaser, and this certain class of 
people that just loves Lawrence Welk. They 
come up—and they’re not all little old ladies 
with tennis shoes; there’s some good ones. It’s 
fine. We’re real happy with it. 

Every year we have a dinner, and they’re all 
there. In fact, the room where we have dinner 
was built for him when we built the place. And 
they said, “How big do you want the room?” 
And he has forty. And I said, “Well, Lawrence 
Welk has forty; and all the gals and guys are 
married or got boys and girlfriends, so that’s 
eighty; plus some Harrah’s people, plus some 
Welk executives, is a hundred people,” which 
is exactly right. And so we fill the room every 

We get done, and Lawrence Welk makes 
a little speech, how happy he is to be back 


William F. Harrah 

again. And I make a little speech that I’m so 
happy that they’re back and that we’re friends 
sixteen years. And then I always say at the 
end that they’re renewed for next year, which 
they—’’Olay!” But I don’t know what will 
happen if and when they’re not. But they’re 
goin’ so good. And although Welk’s seventy- 
three, I think they’ll at least last his lifetime. 
And then when he’s gone, of course, it’ll be 
a new ball game. I don’t think it’ll work any 
more. He’s got some super stars, though. 

Like he has that new (well, not new; he’s 
been there about five years now)—that young 
coronet, I call it, that trumpeter (whatever it 
is)—does super solos. (I think his last name 
begins with a z, like Zill or Ziss, or something.) 
Big, heavy, but he’s very young; he’s in his 
twenties, and plays the most beautiful I ever 
heard. He always has a solo on the show lately; 
he’s just the last five years. But [Welk] hasn’t 
fired anybody; he moves ’em around a little 
bit. (I think it’s Zill is his name.) 

Are you really good friends with Sammy Davis? 

[Sammy Davis is] good—real good friend 
for years. I admire him tremendously. And 
he started, you know—no education, nothin’, 
and just—he did it himself. And he has a 
vocabulary a lot bigger than some of your 
university people. And he knows the meaning 
and pronounces it just—I feel like a tongue- 
tied oaf around Sammy. And it’s not show-off 
with him; it’s just something, he wanted to 
learn the words, and he’s learned them. And 
of course, he’s a super entertainer and singer 
and dancer. The story I like to tell on him is, 
he can do any thing— play the xylophone—. 

And he’s a car freak. And we must have 
sold him or given him twenty or thirty cars, 
most of which he bought, but we gave him 
one or two. He always wants the very latest 
thing. And he can’t shift gears. He has to have 

an automatic transmission, which I just can’t 
believe, because he can do anything! Person 
can play the drums or something; all you have 
to do to shift gears is move your arm and move 
your leg and push the clutch in And he can’t 
do it! No way! 

So one year we gave him a Duesenberg, 
a replica Duesenberg. It looks exactly like a 
1935 Duesenberg Speedster. And it’s done 
very well; this firm in L.A. makes them. 
They’re quite expensive; they look exactly like 
a ’35 Duesenberg, but they have a Chrysler 
engine and an automatic transmission. 

So we took it to the Lake—we got Sammy 
one and took it to the Lake and had a license 
plate “Sammy” put on it. Had it parked out 
in back. And then I went to the show, and it 
was a surprise. He had a Maserati; he wanted 
a Ferrari but you couldn’t get a Ferrari with a 
automatic transmission. So he got a Maserati, 
which you can get with an automatic. So he 
sent his Maserati up ’cause it was—they’re 
not too good a car, really, ’cause—(‘course, I 
sell Ferraris, so I can knock ’em a little bit). 
They’re not really too good and then his was 
run down; it needed paint and this and that. 
So we told Sammy, “Okay, we’ll pick up your 
Maserati, and then when you come up in June, 
you can get it.” 

“Okay, fine.” 

Which we did. We got his Maserati, and 
we cleaned it up and painted it and all. But 
we used that as an excuse to give Sammy the 
Duesenberg ’cause we didn’t want to pull it on 
stage. That was a little too much. But we had 
the Duesenberg parked out in back. And of 
course, he got up there, and he said, “Where’s 
my Maserati?” The Duesenberg wasn’t there 
for about a week; so we had to stall him, which 
he got real suspicious because we always did 
everything exactly right. And “Where’s my 

“Well, the paint isn’t done yet.” 

Harr ah’s Tahoe 


“Well, you’ve had it for two months.” 
And the way we—you know, he couldn’t 
understand why we didn’t have it painted. 
And so we had some story where this painter 
had got drunk, and he’d mixed the wrong 
paint, and we’d fired him; oh, we had a good 

He wanted his Maserati, he wanted his 
Maserati, he wanted his Maserati. And so 
finally then we got the Duesenberg up there. 
And then I went to the show. And so I—big 
grin—”Gee, Sammy, that was a wonderful 
show,” da da da. And sit down; everybody 
meets everybody. And then I said, “Oh, hey! 
Come here, I want to show you somethin’.” 
And I started to lead him out. 

And he said, “Wh-where are we goin’?” 

I said, “Well, I want to take you out in back 
and show you your Maserati.” 

And he said, “See my Maserati? I’ve seen 
it! I—” you know. He didn’t want to go. 

I said, “Oh, come on.” 

And he said, “No, no—.” 

I said, “Well, gee whiz, Sammy. We really 
put a super have a lot of fun. They’re good 
people, real good people— real good. 

[Jim Nabors is] a good friend. We go to 
Indianapolis every year—Jim Nabors and I, 
and his manager. And that just came about—I 
have gone to the Indianapolis race for, well, 
since ’56—twenty years. And I’ll get the same 
seats and everything, and the same—I stay at 
the Speedway Motel because I was a pretty 
good friend of Tony Hulman because I am 
such a car freak. They would have a star every 
year (they still have a lot of stars around there) 
, but they would have a star sing “Back Home 
in Indiana” just before the race. Every year it 
was a different star. So one year they invited 
Jim Nabors. And Jim was working for us, so 
I knew about it, and so I said, “Well, hey! We 
got our plane. Why don’t you ride back with 
us?”—which he did, Jim and his manager, 

and my gang. And we went back, and we had 
a wonderful time. And Jim and I stay at the 
Speedway Motel. That’s very difficult to get in 
’cause there’s only two hundred rooms, so the 
race drivers and car owners stay there. And 
it’s so handy ’cause the day of the race you just 
get out of your room and walk over and watch 
the race, or otherwise you have to get a cab 
or a limo or a whatever—a bus— and come 
from downtown. And we were good friends 
with Jim, anyway, so it just worked so good. 

And Jim sat with us in the stand. Then 
just before that, why, he went down—excused 
himself and went down—and sang “Back 
Home in Indiana” for four hundred thousand 
people, which I thought—I said, “How can 
you do that?” You know, just that I’d die in 
my—. And sang it beautifully. Then he came 
back and watched the race, so it worked good. 
So I said, “Hey, that was fun! Let’s do it again 
next year.” 

And they always changed, so Jim’s 
manager approached the Speedway people 
and said, “Well, Jim and we are good friends 
of Harrah, and we ride back in his plane. It 
works out real good, and Jim loves doin’ it, 
and we’ll do it again next year,” (and I guess 
the money was nothing) “if you want us to.” 

And they said, “Gee, that’s fine.” So it’s 
been about five years now, or six years. We all 
go back on a regular routine. We know exactly 
what’s gonna—have the same chauffeur, and 
the whole thing. And Jim’s goin’ back again 
this year with us. He’s a real nice guy. 

He invited me—Verna and I—down to 
the Mardi Gras one year in New Orleans. 
He was the king of the Mardi Gras one year, 
and then the following year he went back. 
He has some good friends, so—. People from 
that area, they have a nice penthouse down 
there. We stayed at a hotel, but we went to 
the penthouse, and the parade goes right by 
and that goes all day. 


William F. Harrah 

It was fun. It was the way to go to the 
Mardi Gras if you have to go. Jim goes every 
year, but once was enough for us. It’s, you 
know—everybody’s kinda drunk; and it’s fun, 
but it’s just—. 

Jim is a real generous fella. He had a 
party for me about three years ago. And he 
kept it a secret; it leaked out beforehand, 
but he worked on it real—he works—he gets 
interested in somethin’—he just works his 
fanny off. It was in December when at that 
time our room was closed, and he picked 
December because he figured nobody’d be 
working. He invited every single star that 
had ever appeared at Harrah’s, and most of 
’em showed up. There were a hundred people 
or so at the party at his home in Beverly Hills 
or that area. We have some pictures; just you 
name—Sammy Davis was there, and Carol 
Burnett was there, and just on and on. They 
were all there, and that was very flattering. The 
way it started out, it was just “Come down and 
have dinner with me in December.” 

And “Okay, fine.” And then, “Well,” I 
said, “well, next time I’m down.” Well, no, he 
wanted me to come in December. “Okay, I’ll 
come.” Well, he had a new house. Okay, that’s 
a good reason. 

But then it was set for Saturday, such and 
such. And then somethin’ came up, and I said, 
“Well, I want to change it to Friday.” 

“No, no, no!” ’cause all these others—and 
there were people that were, you know— 
actually came out from Texas; they were 
working and came out for the one day just to 
show up, so he insisted it was that day. 

And I—’’Okay.” And then we talked; and 
course, my entertainment director—our 
entertainment director—was in on the thing 
with Jim. So I said, “Well, how come?” you 
know, “What’s the difference—one day?” 

And he said, “Well, gee, you know how Jim 
is. And he’s worked on—his mother’s worked, 

and they just got it all set for this day, and we 
really should go, Bill. We really should.” 

And I—’’Okay, okay.” 

But anyway, it was a fun party. 

Government and Other Problems 
at Tahoe 

Would you discuss problems with the 
environmentalists at the Lake ? 

Well, we didn’t do it the way we did it 
because of the TRPA or anything; we did it 
because that’s the way we like to do things—to 
do them nicely. What was the name of that 
first organization up there? [The Lake Tahoe 
Area Council] I was in that. I was a member 
of that. I went to the meetings, and I was quite 
active. I remember I went to a lot of meetings, 
and I went along—they had some pretty good 
thinking, or I thought they did, and when I 
didn’t agree with them, I told ’em. And the 
reason I got off of it, it just took more time 
than I could spare. And I’m sure we kept our 
membership, and we had someone on there. 
But I had respect for that. And of course, later, 
it got turned around, and I’ve almost lost track 
of how many organizations there are up there 
and who’s pullin’ which way and all that. I 
really don’t bug myself with it. 

We don’t believe the Lake should remain 
like it was in 1910, and we believe in orderly 
development, but we sure don’t believe in a 
hundred million condominiums around the 
Lake where every inch—and you can’t even 
see the water. That’s ridiculous. It should be 
developed properly. I think the Lake is not 
nearly as bad as people represent, or some 
people represent it to be. I’m quite familiar 
with the Lake, south end, of course, but I go 
to the north end periodically. And we have 
boats, and we go around the Lake several 
times a year. I deliberately will—at least once 

Harr ah’s Tahoe 


I go around and look at it just close offshore. 
Then when we have guests, why, we’ll do it 
again if they’re interested. So I do see the 
Lake a lot, and I’m not ashamed of it. The 
only thing I don’t like about the Lake is the 
kinda hodgepodge development at Stateline 
in California, which they want to blame on 
the casinos, which of course, if the casinos 
hadn’t been there, all those little motels 
wouldn’t have popped up. But still California 
could’ve—and whether it was the county 
or state, that’s their problem—could’ve had 
more orderly development there; there’s 
no question about that. So anything that’s 
ugly at Tahoe is in California, and it’s their 
own darn fault. And of course, the casinos 
brought people there. So what? And what’s 
wrong with goin’ to Tahoe and pullin’ a slot 
machine? You can also go water-skiing and 
snow-skiing and fishing and skin diving— 
why, it has everything. I’m rather proud of 
what we’ve done at Tahoe because it could’ve 
been about ten times worse or a hundred 
times worse. 

How do you deal with all of these overlapping 
segments of government? 

Well, you do what you have to do. The 
company’s large enough now that we’re 
departmentalized. And like our PR man (and 
he should have a whole bunch of titles), at 
Lake Tahoe it’s John Giannotti, who’s done 
a super job in keeping on top of things and 
observing what’s going on. And then we 
listen to him—of course, we make our own 
decisions—but we listen to him; and then 
wherever there’s a problem, why, we delegate 
it to whoever should handle it, whether it’s 
legal or political or whatever. But we really 
watch it up there. 

What are Mr. Giannotti s general instructions? 

Oh, I don’t really know that. He’s also our 
lobbyist, I guess (we don’t like the word, but—). 
When the legislature’s in session, he just lives 
in Carson City; and the rest of the time he’s at 
Tahoe. Very personable man and just right on 
top of things, and just super. But the lobbying 
and all that kinda goes together, you know. 
But he has his ear to the ground, and he’s very 
aware of what’s going on in the state and in 
the legislature and politically and at Tahoe 
and also California. Because we are on the 
line, why, we’re very familiar with, like Eugene 
Chappie, the assemblyman from that county 
up there. And Gene is a fine man. He’s right 
straight down the middle, just what’s good for 
everybody, course, he has a cross to bear, some 
of the things that come out of California, but 
he stands right up to them and tells ’em what’s 
good for his county. Gene’s a fine man. 

Right now he has a bill in the California 
legislature to make a single agency responsible 
at Tahoe, a single layer of government. Have 
you been supporting that? 

Oh yeah, of course. 

Or did you help him with it? 

Oh, I don’t know about that, but I would 
speculate that we had. You know he doesn’t 
work for us at all. You know [in] your life, 
you’ve seen people that j ust identify with you. 
You think straight, and they think straight, 
too; and Gene’s always been that way—just 

I just wondered it you couldn’t begin with the 
Lake Tahoe Area Council and characterize 
some of the people who were on there. 

Well, Joe McDonald to me was “Mr. 
Negative.” And I don’t know, I don’t think he 


William F. Harrah 

liked gambling too much but, Joe McDonald 
to me was just bad news. Well, not that strong, 
but just negative. Whenever Joe McDonald 
was around or connected with anything, 
I knew that Harrah’s wasn’t gonna get any 
slaps on the back, cause we really had to 
pay attention to what we were doing. And 
in the Area Council I was there, and many 
meetings, and Joe was leaving Harrah’s out of 
it. He was just kind of a negative guy—just 
sit there, and a sourpuss, and like he hated 
the world, and that the newspaper men 
were—which he didn’t say, but he gave me 
the impression that they were kind of—a little 
higher level than the rest of us or something, 
and just bad news. 

But Summerfield is entirely different. He 
was a wonderful man, and the type that I 
like—you can talk—two and two is four, and 
four and four is eight, and just go right down 
the road, and no big cross to bear or fire to 
fight or something. 

And of course, Ivan Sack, you and I both 
know what a super man he is. Although he 
worked for the Forest Service for thirty years, 
if he thinks a rule of theirs is wrong, he’ll 
speak right up and say so. He is for orderly 
development and to especially come out in 
Idaho with me; we use him up there on a 
retainer basis, and we had to almost chop 
his head off to get him to accept the retainer. 
And he must make twenty-five cents an 
hour for the time he spends up there, and 
he’s right straight down the line. We want to 
develop something, why here’s how you do 
it. And when we’re wrong, he says so. And of 
course, we think alike; we like to do things 
attractive and beautiful and open space and 
not a bunch of horrible yellow signs and 
things. So Ivan just believes in the outdoors, 
the great outdoors, but he also believes a man 
should use it and that it all shouldn’t be just 
backwoods. People should be able to drive a 

car or ride a horse or do something into the 

I remember McClatchy was on there 
for a short time. And it’s the first time I’ve 
mentioned him. I don’t remember which first 
name he had; he was quite young, younger than 
me, which was fifteen years ago. McClatchy 
Newspapers. I think the Sacramento Bee 
hadn’t been too friendly to casinos, so I had a 
in-built dislike for the name McClatchy. And 
then I met him, and it was totally erased. And 
he wasn’t puttin’ me on. He hadn’t gone out of 
his way to cater to me; he was just a straight 
guy. And that was super. That was another 
nice thing about, well, any organization you 
join or that I’ve ever joined—I find that I 
meet people that I wouldn’t otherwise meet, 
and my preconceived notions are quite often 
totally wrong; so there’s somethin’ good in 

There was the Nevada-California Interstate 
Compact. Some of the Nevada members on that 
were Fred Settelmeyer and Hugh Shamberger. 

Yeah. Yeah, I knew Fred forever, of 
course—Douglas County—I remember was 
our Senator for a while. Real classy guy, and I 
know his [sister] very well. I’ve been to their 
homes. And Fred was a conservative, which 
most Douglas Countyites are. But he was all 
right. You might have to nudge him a little, 
but Fred was—he sure meant well. 

Did I ever tell you my story about the 
Douglas County Republicans? Well, see, 
Douglas County—I don’t know if it still is, but 
was the one Republican county in the state. 
And that intrigued me, and when I first went 
up there, it was quite strong. I think now it’s 
about even, or maybe it’s gone, but—. I asked 
Mr. [Willard] Park why, and he didn’t know. 
And I asked many of ’em—every old-timer 
I met, I asked them why Douglas County 

Harr ah’s Tahoe 


was Republican. And I forget—maybe it was 
Mr. Park, or it was Settelmeyer. But I asked 
him, and Id finally pin him, “Why is Douglas 
County Republican?” 

And the only answer I ever got that 
meant anything at all was “It always has been” 

And I would say, “I know, I know, I know!” 

You practically support Douglas County. Do 
you feel that they treat you right or fairly? 

Oh, they did, they did. And then we 
were worried about— because the control 
is in the lower part of the county. And we 
were afraid if and when they got a bunch of 
supervisors, when we got two down there, 
why, wed have bad news. And we have two 
down there, and there is some bad news. And 
almost— well, I was gonna say almost like 
the federal government—pick, pick, pick. 
But it’s not nearly that bad; but compared to 
what it was, where it was one of the easiest 
counties to get anything done and no big 
mess and just do it and go down, and there 
was the judge, or there was the county clerk, 
and you could go to Minden and get a ton 
done in about an hour and a half. And now 
everything’s complicated and this and that, 
and they want an airport here, or they don’t 
want an airport there, and oh boy, on and on 
and on, just—. But it’s typical of the country 
and the world, just—you know—let’s don’t 
keep things simple; let’s complicate it. And 
it has changed for the worse, I think. But of 
course, Giannotti could answer that [clicks] 
like that. It’s a fun county, though. 

Well, I remember when we opened up 
there and that’s when we weren’t as large as we 
are, so I was down there a lot. And we needed 
a license or something, I’d go down and get 
it, pay em the money. You know, I’ve been 
a car guy all my life, and also I like special 

license plates, which I had. And the state of 
Nevada, when they only had one number, 
I finagled around and finally got Number 
Eight, which I had for years, which I was 
very proud of. And then when they went to 
counties I finagled around and got W-8—or 
I got W-8 automatically, and I got W-l by a 
lot of maneuvering. And in Douglas County 
I got VS-B, and DS-1 was held by the county 
clerk. And I thought, “Gee, how am I gonna 
get that?” But he’d had it since it’d been issued, 
and he’d had it before (I forget). So I thought, 
“Gee whiz,” (and I wish I could remember his 

But he had Number DS-1. He was so super, 
and he was a real quiet man, and I didn’t know 
how to approach him. But finally I just—like 
I guess you should do in life—when you can’t 
figure a way, just go do it. So I did. I said, “Gee, 
I—DS-1—you’ve had it forever,” da da da da 

And he said, “Oh, do you want that?” 

And I said, “Oh, you’ll—gee,” da da da. 

“Well, here. Here you are.” 

And I said, “Well, how—?” 

He said, “Oh, I’ve had it for years, and the 
only reason I took it was nobody wanted it at 
the time. So I just took it.” But he said, “Do 
you want—here you are,” just like that. 

Maybe you’d like to discuss the special problems 
involved in dealing with severe weather up 

Well, to keep the people coming, we 
started our buses (I think I covered that). So 
that took care of the customers. And then 
the old highway departments, Nevada and 
California, did a super job. So the weather’s 
never been a big problem. I know on our 
own property we have our own snow removal 
equipment (we’ve gone into that). And when 
we have had heavy snows, we—which we had 


William F. Harrah 

to learn the hard way, of course—but I think 
one year we learned, and now we have trucks 
and loaders and all. Occasionally, every few 
years, the snow will come faster than you 
could—. And we will plow it and load in the 
trucks and take it somewhere and dump it, 
it’s just no problem any more. It’s fine. 

But Douglas County—getting back to the 
operating there, it’s very pleasant to operate in 
the county only As you know, here we have 
the overlap, which is the city, and da-da-da, 
dada-da. And when it’s just county, why, you 
get your county license and talk to the county 
commissioners or the sheriff or whatever, and 
that’s it. So it’s—life’s much simpler with— 
course, which is pleasant. 

You mentioned the sheriff of Douglas County. 
They’ve had a lot of problems with their sheriffs. 
Has it made a problem in enforcement up there 
for you? 

No. The only problem we’ve had is having 
enough deputies at the right time, which 
really hasn’t been too bad. And I think on 
occasion, like the Fourth of July up there is 
just unbelievable. And I think a year or two 
they didn’t have the deputies. Then when 
we growled a little, they had them up there. 
And now I think we have a setup somehow 
where our people, our security people, can 
plan ahead with them. And we’re gonna 
need forty fellas up here, something, on the 
Fourth of July, and Douglas County will 
have ten, maybe, or whatever. And then I 
think our security is authorized (or can be 
authorized) to handle traffic problems up 
there occasionally I think we work fine with 
them now, and generally, it’s been real good. 
Like in the early days, I know, I was up there, 
and many times, I would go up—and a lot of 
traffic. And I was very pleased to see one or 
two deputies up there directing traffic, which 

we hadn’t asked for; they were just there. And 
that’s when maybe they only had one deputy 
up there. So it’s been quite good. 

You have a different class of customers at Tahoe 
from what you have in Reno, isn’t that right? 

Oh, maybe a little—not too much. We 
have a lot more bus customers there, which, 
of course, are the lower income. And we have 
more so-called high rollers. The reason for 
that is our hotel is bigger, and our Shore Room 
is bigger, and it’s just a more elite operation; so 
it—you know—figures. If we had a hotel like 
that in Reno, and if we ran the buses to Reno 
that we run to Tahoe, why, they’d be identical, 
I’d say, probably. 

Any of the famous high rollers that you’d like 
to describe? 

No, not really Of course, our bankroll 
got bigger; and then when it gets bigger, you 
don’t worry so much. But we’ve had some 
big games, win or lose a hundred thousand 
dollars, but I don’t remember any offhand 
that—outstanding. People come, and they 
have streaks, and they will beat you sometimes 
for time after time—you wonder what’s goin 
on. And there are some players that hardly 
ever win that well, they have a self-defeating 
attitude. I mean, they know how to play Craps 
or whatever. You put the bet there and you 
double it down and so on—they know all 
of that. But the problem is, they really don’t 
know when to quit. They have fifty, they want 
a hundred, and they get a hundred, they want 
a hundred and fifty. And of course, that just 
can’t happen, so—. There aren’t too many of 
those, but there are a few that just don’t seem 
to ever want to quit. 

But I think we have our share of good 
customers. We have fewer than most places 

Harr ah’s Tahoe 


because we’ re very restrictive on our credit. 
Some places would (and I think some possibly 
still do)— will give credit without checking 
too closely And we check closely, and if their 
credit isn’t good, we just don’t give ’em any 
Why waste our time, why waste their time, 
and have a whole bunch of markers that 
aren’t any good, and people chasm’ around 
the country tryin to collect ’em—that’s dumb. 
We don’t want to distress anybody, anyway. If 
they can’t afford, or they don’t want to bring 
the money, why, poohy, they don’t have to 
play. If a person doesn’t want to gamble, that’s 
fine with us. 

And they can come to our show, too, if 
they want to; they may not have the best seat 
in the house, which is an old-time complaint. 
That is kind of a in-house thing, that people 
want, like a Frank Sinatra show, which is 
very difficult to get in. And the reason it was 
difficult to get in, he usually only works a 
week. So that’s maybe eighteen hundred seats 
a day times seven is twelve thousand-plus 
seats a week. And we’ll have almost enough 
good customers to fill that. And people that 
aren’t players—and they’ll call in and—”Oh, I 
called in, and the house was sold out. How do 
I get to see Frank Sinatra?” And we have little 
things, we’ve passed ’em, that the shows that 
are difficult to get in are restricted to our good 
customers; we’re in the gambling business. 
And I’ve had, why, I actually had—this is a 
true story. Once I had a man stop me in the 
casino at Tahoe. “Mr. Harrah,” (he wasn’t 
drunk, so I listened to him, but he was a little 
irate) “and how do I get in to see the show?” 

And I said, “Well, did you ask over at 

“Oh, no, I can’t get in—it’s full.” 

And I said, “Well, did you ask the pit 

And he said, “No. Why?” 

And I said, “Well, are you a customer?” 

And he said, “Well, I’m here.” 

I said, “Well, no, do you play?” 

“Well, no.” 

And I said, “Okay, give me twenty dollars,” 
which he dad. And I took him over to the 
table, and it was—kind of room there. There’s 
a pit boss standing there, so I said, “What’s 
your name?” 

Said, “Joe Blow.” 

And, “Okay, Fred, this is Joe Blow. He’s a 
new customer of ours. Take care of him!” [He] 
put the twenty-dollar bill on the line and just 
stood there—and I don’t remember if he won 
the bet or not. 

And he said, “Well,” bla bla bla. 

I said, “Now you’re a customer!” 

And he said, “Well, you want me to lose 
my—” (I think something like that). 

I said, “I don’t care if you even win ten 
thousand dollars!” But I said, “Give us a 
chance!” And I said, “That’s what the show’s 
all about.” 

But people don’t want to—they know that, 
but they won’t accept it. And they’ll say, “Oh, 
I called in and the line was busy, and then I 
called back and the showroom was full,” da 
da da. And all they have to—and we put up 
little things which we have printed that tells 
you how. And it says, “Get acquainted with 
your floor supervisor,” and you get acquainted 
with him by being a customer. And you can be 
a slot customer—play it, you know, and “Oh, 
hello, Mrs.—. 

“Hi, nice to see you again.” 

“Gee whiz, I’ve got some friends cornin’, 
we’d like to get—.” 

“Yeah, sure! How many? What—” you 
know. It’s so simple, but they don’t want 
to—you know. Some of ’em want to come 
and eat, which is fine if we have room. But 
if we don’t have room, the customers—the 
players—come first. It’s so simple, but some 
people don’t want to hear it. 


William F. Harrah 

On the other hand, the golden-agers will take 
a bus load up to see Lawrence Welk. 

Oh yeah. Well, they’re players! Sure! Those 
bus people are fine, you know. No, we knew. 
But I just—there are people that’ll actually 
go in, eat and not put a nickel in, and even 
brag about or somethin’—”Oh, I never play 
the games,” you know?—which was okay; we 
don’t want ’em to play if they don’t want to. 
But then don’t expect the favors of the players; 
it’s just so simple. And they don’t get too 
much, which is okay. But the whole picture, 
you know—Sinatra isn’t there because of the 
money we’re payin’ him. I mean we’re h i m 
that, but we have to get it back, and we sure 
don’t make it off of the steaks, I’ll guarantee 
you that. 


Adventures in Idaho 

Tell me about how you got interested in the 
Salmon River and what made you finally decide 
to start buying property in the area and what 
uses you’ve made of it. 

I should explain why I went to Idaho cause 
it all ties in. When we opened (and I may have 
told you some of this)— when we opened the 
casino here in 1946, it was a big strain for me 
financially, plus Id never been in the casino 
business before. So it was workin, really hours, 
and worrying and planning and financial 
problems, and I drank at the time anyway. So I 
was drinking very heavily and getting up and 
working and working and drinking, working, 
drinking, and—. 

So we finally got open—we got open on 
schedule—June twentieth (I think), ’46. And 
there were problems and, you know, to this, 
that, and the other thing. So finally we started— 
we got it pretty well straightened out; that was 
about August. And I was like this [shakes] 
actually, and I was, what, thirty-five years old. 

So I went—I was like that—just, you 
know—which I’d never done. And so I went to 

Dr. Cantlon (Dr. Vernon Cantlon)— I didn’t 
tell you that story? 

I went to him, and I said, “Gimme a pill, 
Doc—look at that” [shakos hand] you know. 

And he said, “I can cure that.” 

And I said, “Yeah, fine.” 

And he said, “Will you do what I tell you 
to do?” 

And I said, “Of course.” 

And he said, “Okay.” He said, “I want to 
make it real clear—will you do what I’m gonna 
tell you to do?” 

I said, “Absolutely!” 

He said, “Okay, go fishing.” [Laughs] 

And I said, “That’s the craziest thing I ever 
heard! haven’t been fishing since I was a kid! 
What a waste of time,” da da da da da da da. 

And he said, “What did you say? Now you 
just said you’d do what I told you to do.” 

I said, “Okay, okay, okay.” 

So that’s when I had my twelve-cylinder 
Packard convertible that I just loved. So I went 
out and bought a trailer, and my girlfriend 
and I, we took off. And I had no idea where I 
was goin’. And I went east and got to Wells, I 


William F. Harrah 

guess, and then I went north and got to Twin 
Falls. And no reason—I was just ridin’ along. 
And there was a man there that made our 
neon signs, Mel (somethin’) [Cosgriff], who 
was quite a drinkin’ guy. And (Bob Ring’ll 
have his name if you want to get it) so I went 
to see Mel, and 1—”Oh, hi, Dill. What are 
you doing here?”—da da da. “Have a drink.” 
So we had a drink. 

And I said, “I’m goin’ fishin’.” 

And he said, “Well, where are you goin’?” 

And I said, “I don’t know! Where can I 
catch a fish?” 

And he said, “Damn if I know,” but he said, 
“I have a guy that works on the signs that goes 
fishin’, catches great big salmon. Let me go ask 
him.” So he come back, and he said, “He goes 
to Stanley.” 

And so, “Where’s Stanley?” So we got out 
a map, and I found Stanley. 

So then I went to Stanley, and then I 
enjoyed it there; that’s another story. But 
then getting acquainted there— it was the 
following year, I had a friend I made there, 
Archie Danner, who lived there, and he just 
recently died. But he had a little motel thing 
there. I didn’t stay there; I had my trailer. 
But we got to be friends. And he was quite a 
hunter and fisherman, and he’d talked me into 
goin’ huntin’; I didn’t like to go huntin’, but he 
talked me into it. And he talked me into going 
into the Middle Fork, and just on horses. 
And so we had this pack string—we weren’t 
hunting or anything; we were just lookin’. And 
that was one of the most enjoyable trips of my 
life. We got our horses and a real good packer, 
Bill Sullivan; and we went in for about a week, 
and we were having so much fun I think we 
stayed nearly two weeks. Fact, we had to use 
the Forest Service telephone to call out to get 
more supplies. We ran out of—we had plenty 
of meat ’cause they killed deer, and—oh, I 
know what it was! Oh, that’s the funniest 

thing. We took an awful lot of liquor ’cause we 
were drinkin’, so we had a whole mule full of 
liquor [chuckling]! And the other food didn’t 
matter, you know; we could get deer and all, 
and there’s always hotcakes and stuff. But we all 
smoked, and so we ran out of cigarettes. And 
I’ll never forget that—I smoked Luckies. So I 
ran out, and I was a little shocked. So one of the 
guys on the trip smoked Camels, I remember. 
So 1 —doin’ this [pats pocket] —”Gee, I haven’t 
got any Luckies.” 

And he said, “Here, have a Camel.” 

And I said, “No way! That’s the dumbest 
cigarette there is.” So then about an hour later 
I said, “Still got those Camels?” [Laughing] 

So then we all ran out in about a—I’m 
smokin’ Camels or whatever. And then a 
day later we all ran out. And so then it was 
a decision—and it was real simple. We sent 
ol’ Bill Sullivan—he was the packer—we 
called out on the Forest Service phone, had 
somebody bring some cigarettes in, and some 
other stuff. But where they could bring ’em in 
was, I think, twenty miles up the river. And 
of Bill, who’s still alive— he’s a good friend 
of mine. He’s quite a real outdoorsman. He 
took one of his best horses and went up the 
river twenty miles and brought the stuff—the 
supplies—and come back the same day, which 
is unbelievable. 

But anyway, while we were in there, we 
were goin’ along the river, and you know, 
campin’ out. But we came to this one place 
which is the Middle Fork Lodge—it was called 
the Middle Fork Lodge—and we had lunch 
there. And there was a lady (I still know her), 
Mrs. Guth—husband was Bill Guth, and he’s 
still alive, too; he moved around. She actually 
ran the place. And so we stopped there. 
“Could we have lunch?” 

“Oh, sure you can have lunch.” And 
so she—these sandwiches with big, thick 
homemade bread, and it was so wonderful. 

Adventrues in Idaho 


And I was impressed with the place. It was 
terribly run-down, but I thought, “Oh boy, 
what—” you know But I didn’t have money 
in those days. It wasn’t even thinkable to have 
anything like that. But I looked it all over and 
just— “Oooh! This is beautiful.” 

So then later, maybe five or ten years or 
whenever, it became available. And at the 
time the man was tryin to sell it to me, and 
he started describing it to me, and I said, “I 
know every inch of that place.” And we made 
a good deal on it at the time. And we fixed 
it all up, of course, and fixed it up nice. We 
didn’t put any chrome or any tin roofs or 
anything; it’s all done very well—rustic and 
so on. 

I think we can handle thirty guests at a 
time—that’s everything full. And we have a 
swimming pool—swimming pool was there. 
In fact, the man that built the swimming 
pool— he was a previous owner—Rex 
Lanham. I bought it from Rex; that’s right. Rex 
had a partner—he’s a real good friend of ours. 
He’s an old Idaho guy that started with nothin’ 
and then owned—just very successful—a 
good all-around guy. And he owned it, and 
he sold it to us. The swimming pool, it’s a 
beautiful, a hundred-foot swimming pool 
and wide, and there’s natural hot water there. 
And it’s not sulfur water; it’s just plain, natural 
hot water. In fact, we heat the lodge, and the 
faucet in the bathroom is hot water right out 
of the mountain. 

But I said, “How did you ever build that 
swimming pool?” 

He has a lot of airplanes; he’s quite a pilot. 
But he had this little Super Cub that he had 
built to haul stuff (’cause he has another place 
up there)—.haul material. I think he could 
haul in two sacks of cement at a time, and it 
took five or six hundred sacks [chuckles]. But 
he said, “Figure it out yourself how many trips 
it took!” 

Anyway, I’d say it’s very popular, of course. 
It’s natural hot water. 

Then we’re on a creek there, Thomas 
Creek. They had a little nothin’ power plant 
there. So we put in quite a sophisticated 
hydroelectric plant. And in about, oh, two or 
three months in the spring and a few months 
in the fall (I forget exactly when it is, but I’d 
say maybe five months of the year) we can 
run on our hydroelectric. There’s enough 
water in the thing—the creek—to run just 
about everything on the place. We have a lot 
of things going at six o’clock at night when 
everybody’s got their lights on. And then we 
have a diesel that we use otherwise. 

A story I like to tell is when the 
hydroelectric’s working, we get free electricity, 
and with the hot water cornin’ out of the hill, 
we get free hot water, so it’s really, really nice. 

That’s owned by the Company. And it’s 
used—because of Internal Revenue and all, 
why, it has to be “purely business” and so on; 
so I don’t go there as much as I used to, but 
that’s “life.” 

But in Stanley, that’s my separate property. 
And, of course, that’s business, too, but I have 
a lot more reasons to go to Stanley—because 
there’s a business there, and I own it, so I go 
there to look at it. Stanley, where I first went 
and loved, fishin’ didn’t amount to much, but 
bein’ there was a lot of fun. And I was still 
drinkin’, but I went out by a little stream, and 
I bought a fishin’ pole and so on and I tried it. 
And then I got in with some guys that knew 
how to fish, and I got to feelin so good real 
fast, because even though I was still drinkin’, 
I was eating good, and you can’t help walking, 
you know, and I had a big pot [pats abdomen] 
on me and I lost it right away. But I went to 
stay I think a week or—that’s right, a week— 
and I stayed six weeks. And I would call in, 
you know; they had a phone there in Stanley. 
And I’d call in about every day, and business 


William F. Harrah 

was just fine. In fact, that’s always kinda—it’s 
nice if you own a place and business gets 
better, but still, if you’re not there, you think, 
“Well—” [chuckles] it’s good and it’s bad! But 
anyway, I came back, and I was just fine. But 
I fell in love with the place. 

And so I went back—in fact, I went back 
that year. I met this Archie, and he talked me 
into cornin’ back for hunting season (which 
was October), which I went back for, which 
I didn’t enjoy—I enjoyed bein’ there, but I 
didn’t enjoy the hunting. I think either then 
(that was ’46) or ’47, this little cabin was for 
sale. And it was a cabin and the lot for twelve 
hundred dollars. It was a little log cabin—I 
think about an eighty-foot lot. And it had 
no—well, there was no electricity in the town; 
it had a little light plant and no plumbing. It 
had the outhouse. But I bought it, and I loved 
it and started fixing it up right away. And then 
bought the lot next door and the lot next door 
and the lot next door and the lot next and the 
lot next door and the lot next door. And added 
on the cabin and added on the cabin again. 
And then my present wife—we made a big 
addition because of my three boys, and that’s 
kind of their wing. They each have a bedroom 
and a playroom. So now it’s quite an extensive 
place. And it’s a very beautiful place. And 
garages, and places for the snow machines, 
and places for the bicycles and motorcycles, 
and on and on. And a beautiful lawn and a 
guest cabin. And people look at it, you know, 
and they—”Wow! What a place for Stanley!” 

And I’d say, “Yeah, it started with a twelve- 
hundred-dollar cabin. 

But then I wasn’t interested in goin’ into 
business there at all, ’cause that was where I 
relaxed; that was my play place. And I knew 
everybody in town. I’ve been goin’ there so 
long that now I’m an old-timer up there. I 
know everybody in there, and knew a lot of 
’em when they were kids, you know; I’ve seen 

’em grow up, and now they’re the owners of 
the businesses and so on. So I’m a real old- 

SO I didn’t want to be in business, but 
there was a piece of property adjoining mine, 
one little piece I didn’t have— and that always 
bugs me if I don’t have it. It was a garage here, 
and I’d known the owner of the garage. He was 
a nice old guy. And he died, and it went here 
and there, and it was an old stone building, 
you know—beautiful building. And so it’d 
been kicked around and all, and it became for 
sale, and I thought, “What the heck, I’ll buy 
that thing!” So I bought it and started to run 
the gas station. 

Then I got interested in it—the gas station 
and the repair shop and so on—and we ran 
that. And then, it was no trouble; I just had a 
guy runnin it and it was fun. I’d go over and, 
“Hey, what’s goin’ on?” And it was a place— 
you know, it was fun. 

So then there was about three restaurants 
there, and some of ’em, most of ’em, closed in 
the winter. But there was one, this old hotel 
there, and it had been closed for years; it was 
open when I got there, and it closed. It was 
doing very poorly, and it closed. And then it 
was closed for years. 

The fishing guide at the Middle Fork, 
a Bob Cole (who’s another story)—. Bob’s 
father (who was a wonderful old man) was 
retired. And then he kinda liked the country; 
they were both from Twin Falls. He liked the 
country, and so he and his wife bought this 
old hotel. And I remember when they bought 
it, and I thought, “Boy that’s dumb. That place 
hasn’t been any good in years.” And it was 
run-down, the windows broken and all, you 
know. And it had about four or five rooms 
upstairs and one bathroom and pretty good 
lobby and pretty good, small dining room. 
But they bought it—the two of ’em—and 
they were both in their sixties or older. They 

Adventrues in Idaho 


worked real hard and cleaned it all up and 
opened it up and had wonderful food, and it 
was a good place to eat. And so we all started 
eating there, and theyd rent a room once in 
a while. And they had no nut,” just the two of 
’em. I think they paid twenty thousand dollars 
for it or so. In a couple of years, Bob kept tellin 
me how they were doin’; I think they’d paid 
for it, and they had twenty or thirty thousand 
dollars out of it. 

They were getting old, and Bob’s son, 
Steve, got married, and he was workin around 
there. So the old folks sold it to Steve, which 
was a surprise ’cause he was in his early 
twenties. Where he got any money—but then 
Bob got in the deal, and it was a family thing. 
But they had a price on it and all. 

So Steve and Kathy had it, and they were 
young kids in their twenties. And they worked 
real hard. And we thought, “Well, the food 
isn’t gonna be as good because the kids— 
what do they know?” And the food was as 
good, or it was better. So— “Oh boy, isn’t that 
wonderful?” And, “We have a nice restaurant 
in Stanley,” and they were open all year, and, 
“Oh boy!” 

And so that went on for a couple of years. 
And we didn’t go out to eat; we had a nice 
kitchen, but we liked to go out to lunch quite 
often and dinner maybe once or twice a week. 
So one night, we’d eaten at home three or four 
nights, and it was Friday night. So we liked to 
call up—they were so busy. So we called up 
about five-thirty or five o’clock (I think), said, 
“We’ll be down to dinner at six-thirty. Save us 
a table.” 

And Verna did the calling, and Steve was 
a little haughty. And he said, “Oh,” he said, 
“we’re closing at five-thirty. If you get here 
before then, we can serve you.” 

So we couldn’t get there before then, so 
we said, “No,” and we thought, “What’s that 
all about?” And then it continued, and we 

would call, and—it was usually on Friday, too. 
And, “Well, if you get here by five—.” Well, 
that’s ridiculous— five-thirty—you know, 
who wants to eat at five-thirty? Some people 
do, but—. Come to find out, they’d be goin 
somewhere, and they would just close up. And 
then it got even worse; they would not even 
open Friday. They’d want to go somewhere. 
And prior to that, why, she had her sister 
come in or they had somethin’ so the place 
was always open. 

But then they made some money, and they 
bought this and that, and they bought the 
property behind, they were doin’ good. And 
they got real cocky and closed up whenever 
they felt like it, which is—I mean that’s their 
privilege; it’s their place. If they, you know— 
they can close forever. And we didn’t talk 
to them at all about it, except, you know, 
if they’d ask us, we’d say, “Gee,” you know, 
“we’d like to eat,” and all. And they were real 
independent—”Boy, this is the way it is.” 

And so then Verna and I talked about it. 
And well, we could handle it okay; we had 
our own kitchen, but we said, “Gee, that’s 
terrible for people come up here, and it’s May 
or somethin’, you know, and expectin’—” 
(and the other restaurants wouldn’t open till 
summer, you know) , “and here they get in 
town, there’s no place to eat!” I said, “That’s 

So, the other restaurant in town (they were 
havin’ a terrible time) , it became available, 
and so I asked Verna, I said, “What do you 
think? It’s—price is right. And I don’t like the 
restaurant business, but,” I said, “I’m sure we 
can handle it with help from Reno. And well, 
there’ll be a place to eat in Stanley.” 

She said, “Let’s do it.” So we bought this 
other restaurant. And, course, Steve and Kathy 
have hated us ever since [laughter], which is 
the way people are. And we actually did it—. 
I’ve told a lot of people that story—. And 


William F. Harrah 

of course, some people believe it, and some 
don’t. But the reason we own a restaurant is so 
there’ll be a restaurant open in Stanley every 
day of the year. And we also bought the motel 
which was next door—became available. And 
now there’s a place to—and we also bought 
another gas station, which is always open. So 
now, 365 days a year you can go to Stanley, and 
you can buy gas, you can get a room, and you 
can eat (which is kind of important, too). But 
then later we bought the grocery store, and 
we bought the ice cream parlor, and on and 
on and on. So we own an awful lot of Stanley. 

It’s rumored that you will have gambling in 

They used to have gambling there years 
ago. When I first went up there, all over the 
state it was gambling just in the back room, 
you know—it paid the sheriff off. But that 
hasn’t been there in years, and we have no 
interest in gambling in Idaho. Well, Idaho isn’t 
gonna have gambling, first of all—I’m sure 
of that. And then if they were, and we were 
interested, we wouldn’t be in Stanley where 
there’s forty-seven people; we’d be in Boise 
where there’s a hundred thousand or eighty 
thousand or something. So it’s just crazy. 

And then to add fire to the rumor, we’ve 
got some beautiful property there right on the 
river. It all ties in together—all of our property. 
And so we built a very nice restaurant there. 
It’s too nice for the town, really, but as long 
as we built it from the ground up—so as long 
as we’re building it, we allowed for expansion. 
So we built a restaurant—it isn’t open yet; the 
whole building is up, the interior isn’t done. 
That’ll take another six months, so it’ll be the 
first of the year or so before it’s actually open. 
But it’s huge. And for Stanley, people look at 
it, “Well, that’s a casino!” And it isn’t; it’s just 
the way that you should build things, when 

you can, because five years later it’s never big 
enough—if it’s successful, which I’m sure it’ll 
be successful. And no matter how you plan 
it, there’s just—you put in ten booths, or if 
ten isn’t enough, you should have twenty. So 
it’s built nice and big to start with, but then if 
it is very successful, we can go out. But that’s 
our fun place. Well, we went to Stanley, and 
Verna at first didn’t like it. Well, she liked 
it—see, she was born and raised in Idaho, so 
she likes Idaho. But Stanley was kinda fun, 
but I’d been there before with my other wife 
so that there’s always a damper, you know. But 
then when we added on and built the place for 
the kids and all, then it became her place as 
well as mine, which is nice. So we just loved 
it there. And we used to—for fun, we’d go to 
Ketchum and Sun Valley—just somethin’ to 
ride; it’s sixty miles. We’d ride down there and 
maybe go shopping, look around, have lunch 
or something. 

And so we were talkin’ one year, and it was 
like—it’s amazing how fast this happened—it 
had to be after the first of the year (that was 
last year, ’77). I’d say in January of ’77 we 
were up there, and Verna said, “Wouldn’t it 
be kinda fun to have a place here?” 

And I said, “Well, yeah, it would,” because 
Sun Valley is skiing and Stanley in the winter 
is snow—big on snow machines and cross¬ 
country skiing. And of course, Sun Valley and 
Ketchum is skiing. 

And the kids and all—and she said, “It 
would be nice to have a place here and a 
really—it’s a place to ski and all.” 

And I said, “Oh, I don’t want to ski, but,” 
I said, “I’d love bein’ here. I’d like it.” 

And so we said, “Okay, let’s get a place 

So we got a realtor, very nice man (can’t 
think of his name) [ Winton Gray]. Forget how 
we got him, but he happened to be the mayor 
of Sun Valley, which was only a hundred and 

Adventrues in Idaho 


eighty people there. But he’s become a good 
friend; he’s such a nice man. And so we talked 
to him. And he said, well, this and that, and 
we had this and this bracket and that bracket, 
and so on, and, “What’s your numbers?” 

And we said, “Well, we really—there’s no 
really numbers on it. Let’s just see what’s for 

So we’re lookin’ at this and we’re lookin’ 
at that. And that’s too far away, and that’s too 
close. And he says, “Well, there’s one for sale— 
or gonna be.” And he said, “I’m not supposed 
to tell anybody about it; I’m sworn to secrecy. 
But,” he said, “the man said, ‘Sell it, but don’t 
tell anybody.’” And he says, “I don’t know 
how I’m gonna sell it if I don’t tell anybody!” 
[Laughter] So he said, “I’m going to!” 

And I said, “Okay, what is it?” 

He said, “It’s Bill Janss’s place.” Bill Janss 
was the owner of Sun Valley; he’s supposed 
to be a zillionaire and all. And they’d had two 
terrible seasons—no snow, you know—so 
we knew he was hurtin’. Rumors around, you 
know, and they had big expense there; three or 
four hundred employees had to get paid every 
day, and waitin’ for it to snow. You just can’t 
wait till it snows and then go look for some 
employees; you know how that is. So they put 
’em on about late October, early November, 
and they’d go through the winter and no snow 
two years in a row! So the nut was just—he 
lost several million dollars, I think. And we 
got to know him very well. His wife is Glenn 
Janss. They’re wonderful people. We got to be 
good friends. 

Anyway, the Janss—well, why?—you 
know. Well, ’cause he really—he needed the 
money, but he didn’t want anybody to know 
he needed the money. And he was that bad 
off. So it was for sale, and it was over a million 
dollars. And we looked at it, and that you look 
at, it’s a million-dollar house. And seven acres 
right in the heart of Sun Valley, and right 

on the golf course, and nobody around, and 
the stream goes right by the door, and just 
perfect, and unbelievable (I’d like you to see it 
someday) —just unbelievable, one-of-a-kind 
house in the whole world. And all the rooms 
are double height, you know— the ceiling is 
eighteen, twenty feet; two chimneys; and on 
and on and on—just a magnificent home. 

So anyway, like I said, it was January or 
late January, and we decided we wanted the 
place. And by the middle of February we 
bought this place. And it was like somebody 
wanted us to have it because it just came on 
the market the week that we started looking 
for a place, and, of course, it’s a lot of money; 
everybody couldn’t afford it. So it just was 
meant for us to have. 

We have that now, and we’ve remodeled 
it—odds and ends, just little things we like, 
like our bathrooms have to be just so and our 
kitchen was excellent, but we like a family 
room we have here, and we have in Stanley, 
in a way. And then in Sun Valley we’ve set it 
up, too, and we have our three TVs there so 
we can watch three shows if we want. And 
like we go there, and we have a drink before 
dinner and on and on—our life-style—it just 
fits our life-style. 

We have that, so then between that and 
that, plus I wanted the boys to learn to water 
ski and sail. I can water ski just barely, and I 
can sail just barely—not even barely. But, okay, 
how do you do that? And we spend a lot of 
time—you know, we go to Tahoe, of course, 
but we spend more time in Idaho than we do 
at Tahoe—for all those reasons. So we looked 
around up there, and we wanted a home on a 
lake. And sure you can— there’s a lot of lakes 
there, and you can tow your boat up and then 
back the trailer in the water and all that. And 
the way I’m constructed, I’m just lazy, I guess 
it is. If the boat’s out in front, I go water ski 
and I go for a boat ride. But if I have to go, 


William F. Harrah 

and ba ba ba, back in and all that, I’ll say, “Oh, 
poohy! I won’t bother with it!” 

So we looked for a home on a lake, 
and there’s hardly any up there. The Forest 
Service owns everything. And there’s just a 
few homes, and they’re tryin’ to phase them 
out. But at Pettit Lake, which is about halfway 
between Stanley and Ketchum-Sun Valley, 
and it’s about three or four miles off the 
highway—is this cute little lake. It’s about two 
miles long and maybe a mile, three quarters of 
a mile wide. But it’s quite adequate for water 
skiing and sailing on. I think there’s about 
twenty cabins there, that are on land leases. 
And they’re very popular, so none was for sale. 
And then we found one that was for sale, and 
then it wasn’t for sale, and so and so. 

And then we got this one which, it was— 
Bill Janss was part owner, of it; this was the 
year before we got his home. And it was a real 
run-down little—most of ’em aren’t much; 
they’re just summer cabins. And we always 
have to fix everything up, so we fixed it up real 
cute. And it didn’t cost a lot of money. And 
we’ve stayed there at night, but it’s so handy— 
it’s only twenty minutes, thirty minutes from 
Stanley, so we can drive up and take our lunch 
and go waterskiing and all that, and sailing, 
and whatever, and come back the same day. 
And we have stayed overnight. But we fixed 
it— it’s a tiny little place—but we fixed up, 
where Verna and I have a room and the boys 
have a room, and even security has a place 
there. And we have our dock, which is so nice, 
and we have a nice ski boat out in front, and 
we have a cute little sailboat out in front, and 
then some playthings the kids like, like rubber 
rafts and things, you know. So summertime 
we’ll go there—. 

And then also last year we went—which 
I think we’ll do again (I m digressing a little 
but not much) —we went backpacking. We’ve 
read about that and thought, “Well, gee, that 

would be fun to try.” And we did it just right; 
I’m kinda proud of that. Like we talked to Ivan 
[Sack] on it, and he gave us some pointers. 
Fact, he was gonna go, and then he got ill. 

So we laid out a way to go up there. In fact, 
we left from a point maybe five miles south of 
Stanley, and then we finished at Pettit Lake, 
and I think it was maybe nineteen miles or 
twenty-one miles. But Verna was gonna meet 
us—she couldn’t go; she got sick at the last 
minute. And she was gonna meet us at the 
cabin at Pettit; we got there early, but she was 
there, which was pleasing. We were going to 
get there in two and a half days. Okay, so let’s 
say we left on a Monday, and we went—and 
it was really fun. Ted [Ererson], my security, 
went; he’s a big strong guy. He carried forty- 
some pounds, I remember. And Ivan was 
gonna go, and as Ivan couldn’t go—and 
he’s our “woodsman”—we took a man from 
Stanley, an Albert Denny, who’s been there 
since I’ve been there, who’s a wonderful man. 
He works for us in Middle Fork sometimes. 
He’s in his sixties, and he’s strong as an ox. I 
think he carried thirty-some pounds. And 
then the three boys and me— I carried, I 
think sixteen pounds, which was somethin’, 
you know. And the boys carried around ten, 
I think. And it was a wonderful experience 
for all of us. 

Anyway, we went, and the first day we’d 
had our camp picked out, which was fine. 
And it was on a lake. And we asked Ivan— 
Ivan isn’t always wrong; he’s usually right, but 
sometimes he’s wrong—and we asked him 
beforehand, we said, “Well, should we take 

And he said, “No way!” He said, “That’s 
terrible! You’re backpacking,” he said, “you 
know,” this and that. 

I said, “Well, they make tents weigh four 
pounds,” you know. 

“No, no, that’s terrible!” 

Adventrues in Idaho 


So at the last minute, I think at Verna’ 
s insistence, we took some little tents that 
weighed nothing. 

Well, anyway, we got up in our first camp, 
and so we had the tents; we spread ’em out. 
And we had three tents, and so I was with 
Tony in one, and John was with Albert in 
one, and Ted and Richard were in one. And 
that night it started raining, and it rained and 
rained and rained and rained and rained. So 
it was wonderful having tents. But we were 
set up—we really hadn’t planned it too good 
’cause we didn’t really think it was gonna rain. 
So I woke up about (this is unimportant, 
but I’ll tell it anyway) —about three in the 
morning (I had a flashlight, of course), and I 
looked at my watch—three o’clock—and I was 
wet, and the tent was leaking! I was wet, and 
I looked at Tony—he was sound asleep—but 
he was wet, and I thought, “Well—.” And I 
tried to move around and all, and it was just 

So I said, “Well, now this—I can lie 
here—I’m not gonna sleep a wink; I know it. 
I’m cold and wet. But I can leave the others, 
or I can—you know,” and I really argued with 
myself. And I thought—in cases like that, I 
can usually think it pretty good, so I said, 
“Well, what’s the intelligent thing to do? Will 
I be glad tomorrow I did—or next week or 
next month—will I be glad I did—? Well, I’ll 
be glad that I got out of the tent and went over 
and woke up Ted and Albert and said, “Hey, 
I’m freezin’ to death; let’s dry things out; let’s 
start a fire; let’s—you know.” 

So I did—I went over and woke up Ted, 
and he got right up; he was—you know, 
he didn’t growl. He was a little wet, too— 
everybody was a little wet, although they were 
sound asleep. And of course, when they woke 
up (Albert and—), they were glad I’d woke 
’em, you know. So they started a big fire, and 
it was hard to start because the logs were wet. 

But they—you know—mountain men can do 
it. So they started this big fire, and of course, 
the kids were tickled to death! And we all 
dried out and reset our tents and went back 
to bed, and it was fine. And we woke up the 
next day, it was clear. 

Then we went on, and we did a lot of 
climbing, and it was straight up, and well, it 
wasn’t really—there was a trail. [As] much you 
could go, maybe, or I could go with my wind, 
which is fair because I do jog; course, Albert 
and Ted were super. And the kids, like little 
John—he stayed right with Albert; they went 
out in front. And then Richard and Tony were 
about my speed. Then finally I got to counting, 
and there you were—and we kept getting 
higher and higher, you know; we’re up—nine 
thousand feet, something like that. So we re 
climbing, and we had a long ways to go. And 
you re climbing—you know, up—not hand 
over hand, but it’s real steep—with a pack on 
your back. And I got a little trick of my own: 
I could go about a hundred steps, and then I’d 
stop, and I’d rest till I got my—and I wouldn’t 
wait till I wasn’t breathing heavy, you know, 
but, why, I’d slow down; then I’d do it again. 
So I just kept movin’ right along, and as I said, 
John and Albert went on out in front. 

So we got on, and we came to our second 
camp, and we got there at lunchtime. And we 
thought, “Well, gee whiz, there’s no sense— 
you know—and it’s only another eight miles 
(which is a long ways) or six miles. But, why 
don’t we go on? But Verna won’t be there, but 
so what? We can break a window if we have 
to,” ’cause we didn’t have any keys or anything. 
So we went on; course, we got pretty tired 
near the end, but we were still goin’ okay. 
And so then we made it around four or five 
o’clock to the cabin, and Verna was there! And 
because we were—I’ll never forget—I had a 
can of Coors (we have a refrigerator there, of 
course)—and I had a can of Coors, and it was 


William F. Harrah 

the best can of beer I ever had in my life, you 
know, cause you’re tired [breathes heavily— 
pants] and dirty and sweaty and on. I said, 
“What are you doin’ here?” 

And she said, “Well, I know you!” She said, 
“I know darn well if you’re goin’ pretty good, 
you’re gonna [laughs] keep on going, and you 
would get here ahead.” And so she just figured 
we would. 

And of course, the kids just loved it. Well, 
they liked the walkin’ and the scenery and the 
mountains and runnin’. But also bein’ dirty 
and all ’cause you get on those—you’re never 
really clean; you try to pretend you’re clean, 
but you’re not. It was great. 

But anyway, like last summer, of the ten 
weeks, maybe, summertime, I’d say we spent 
maybe six of ’em in Idaho. And it’s great. In 
Stanley we have the—which Verna named— 
it’s a little hamburger place; we call it the 
French Fry Connection. And we run that, 
and our restaurants, and our bar, and our 
motel, and our two gas stations. We put in 
a pizza parlor there last summer, which was 
fun, really. It’s a good pizza parlor. It’s the only 
one in the county. And things like that are fun, 
and it’s good for the kids, you know. They get 
a touch of business and—. 

Then in Ketchum, there was a Volkswagen 
agency for sale there, a nice little building 
right in Ketchum—Volkswagen and Audi 
and Porsche. And then that’s a great Jeep 
country, and there’s a Jeep agency there, and 
so I bought that from the fella [that] had the 
Jeep, and bought him out and moved it over 
with the—. So I have a real nice little car 
agency there that does all right. It’s nothing 
like here, and it’s small expense because of it, 
and we have some good management, and 
it’s a fun thing for me, and—like I get up in 
the morning in Sun Valley and get to have 
breakfast and drink our coffee and watch the 
news. Then I get dressed and go down—we’ll 

go to the grocery store or something, and then 
I’ll go over to the agency, which is right across 
from the grocery store, and, “What’s goin’ on? 
What’s—” you know, this and that. And it’s 

Then we had a chance to buy a general 
store there, and it’s the best location in 
Ketchum. And the place did a lot of—does 
a big business; and it just sells, well, odds 
and ends kinda—like you need jeans or you 
need mittens or you need just low-price stuff, 
and it’s—they carry a big stock. It’s called 
DeCostas, and it’s an excellent location; it 
does a big business. We did a lot of shopping 
there for years. And the place makes a lot of 
money—I mean for that kind of a store. 

So I’d admired the store, and the fella who 
ran it was a real crabby guy. And he was real 
suspicious, like you’d come in, he’d watch ya 
like you’re gonna steal something’, you know, 
and just real negative. And he wrote me a 
letter, and, “Dear Mr. Harrah—” (and I guess 
that was after I bought the Jeep agency or the 
Volkswagen) —he said, “I see you’re buying 
something—would you be interested in a 
store like that?” 

And I go, “Wow! How come—?” And 
come to find out, he’d been there about five or 
six years, and he’d made a lot of money. And 
his home was in California, which he liked. 
And plus he knew he wasn’t cut out for it; he 
was just so nervous somebody was gonna 
steal somethin’, and the least little thing would 
drive him crazy. He was like this [nervous, 
shaking], you know. 

so anyway, it was for sale, and so he— 
’’What do you want?” Well, he didn’t know, 
and so we had it appraised and made him an 
offer, and he accepted it. So—zing! We were 
in the store business. And we’ve done a lot 
of things—see, like he’d buy somethin’ and 
it wouldn’t sell, which you can do. He would 
never discount it, or he would never—it would 

Adventrues in Idaho 


just sit there. So he had a lot of out-of-date 
stock. And you know, well, what can I do? 
There it is, you know—old—like jeans—out- 
of-style jeans and stuff. So we went in with a 
pretty good management, and like we sold the 
jeans for a dollar a pair, two dollars a pair. And 
now we have all the proper swingin’ jeans, so 
it’s doing very well. And we go down and look 
at that, so it’s—. 

The Ketchum area—Sun Valley—there’s a 
lot of—it’s amazing! See, in the season there’s a 
lot of people there, and there’s a lot of money 
there. And like there’s maybe ten to fifteen 
excellent restaurants there, if you can believe 
it— I mean, gourmet-type restaurants—or 
maybe fifteen or twenty. And they close when 
it’s slow, but when it’s pretty good, they open. 
When you want to go out to dinner, why, 
there’s a choice of fifteen to twenty excellent 
restaurants. It’s a real fun place. And then still 
sixteen miles away, why here’s Stanley with 
one restaurant. And again it’s good for the 
kids; they see the whole picture. 

And then, getting back to Idaho—just a 
few things—we don’t go to the Lodge much 
any more, but of course, we’re in Stanley a lot. 
But we do go. You can go down the river— 
see, the river, the middle fork of the Salmon 
River, starts about maybe thirty miles above 
the Lodge. And it comes out on the main 
river, which is the end of the middle fork, 
about seventy miles down river; it’s about a 
hundred and five miles. And you can float 
it on a rubber raft or a dory-type boat, and 
we’ve done that for years. I’ve been down there 
about twelve times, I guess. And Verna and 
I, and the boys—we go—we’ve gone every 
year for five years. And it’s a fun thing we 
look forward to. And we either leave from the 
main—depending on the height of the river— 
we’ll leave from Dagger Falls; that’s where you 
put in. And then the Lodge is about two days 
down. So the first night you camp out; second 

night you’re at the Lodge, which is kinda nice 
’cause we have our rooms there, and we just 
go into our room and get the things that you 
forgot, like your suntan lotion or whatever. 
And then from there it’s about three or four 
days more—three days—and you just float 
down the river and camp at night. And we 
take about the same crew, and we take a dory 
also, so we have two large rubber rafts and a 
dory. And we have Bob Cole from the Lodge, 
who’s the manager, and we also have some 
professional boatmen. And all we do is just 
sit on the boat and go along. Of course, the 
kids just love it! That’s their happy time of the 
year, ’cause you’re camping out all the time, 
and they can swim in the river, and there’s 
sandbars you stop on and they dig holes in the 
sand and they catch pollywogs, and on and 
on and on. It’s just super. And you really get 
away; see, there’s nothing down there. There’s 
no civilization whatsoever. 

In fact, I went down there first in 1948 
on a rubber raft, and it was unheard-of then, 
’cause one place we stopped they had a cache, 
and it was put up where the water couldn’t 
get to it. And there was this can in there—tin 
can—it was a pretty good—like a metal box. 
And the fella I went with, he was one of the 
first to go down. So he’d started this thing, and 
there was a scroll in there that you signed; you 
became a member of the (what’s the name) the 
Wild Rivers or something. And I was Number 
Twenty-four to sign it. And I thought, “Well, 
there’ve been a few Injuns here, but I’m one 
of the first white men.” 

Now, of course, there’s—oh, I think there’s 
two thousand— we count ’em; they go by the 
Lodge, and we made a real nice place which 
I’m kinda proud of, a place where they can 
pull in with their rafts, and we sell ’em beer 
and suntan oil and things like that. And so 
many people forget those things. And you’re 
halfway—you know—and no suntan oil. 


William F. Harrah 

And just the simple little things that you 
forget. And they’re just so appreciative. And 
we don’t make any money on it; we have one 
little girl runnin’ it. Fact, we lose money—but 
just maybe her salary, which is nothing. But 
it’s such a (what is it) public relations thing, 
for what that’s worth—I get letters, you 
know—’’Dear Mr. Harrah, We were in there 
and there, and we’d lost our sunglasses, and 
the type of eyes I have I really shouldn’t—you 
know. And you had sunglasses—” just on and 
on and on. 

And there’s a funny story. We went fishing 
one morning. We go fishin’ up the river about 
a couple of miles—salmon fishin’—that’s the 
only kind of fishin’ I do. And when we left, I 
know, we were up a little ways. And this boat 
party came by, and they had—there’s a lot 
of boat parties, but I noticed them because 
they had some nice equipment, and they 
were dressed similar—was a first-class outfit. 
I think they had about two boats and maybe 
six or eight fellas. We didn’t do very good, 
’cause usually you’re back by noon or before. 
But we take a lunch just in case. But we’re 
up there, say, most of the day, and I think 
everybody caught a fish but somebody, and we 
just stayed; so it may be three or four cornin’ 
back, which is very late to come in from 
salmon fishin’. So we came in, and these boats 
are pulled in at our place. So I knew they got 
there at nine or ten in the morning, and it’s 
four in the afternoon—”My God! Somebody’s 
sick or,” you know, “accident.” So gee, I rushed, 
you know. And I asked the first person I ran 
into—I said [stuttering] “W-what’s goin’ — 
what wha-wha-wha-wha—?” 

And they laughed, and said, “Well, it’s a 
gang of guys from Boise (or somethin’), and 
they came along, and they’re beer drinkers. 
And they ran out of beer, and they came down 
here and found we had cold beer! [Laughing] 
They sat there all day and drank beer! And we 

were rushin’—we ran out of cold—and we’re 
puttin’ it in the freezer to get it cold, so— you 
know.” Then when they left, they took a couple 
of cases with them. 

And then the salmon fishin’, which is a run 
up there, which is the craziest thing ever—the 
life of a salmon is just really weird. They go 
up there to spawn, and they have to go from 
the Pacific Ocean into the Columbia River 
into the Snake River into the Salmon River 
into the middle fork of the Salmon River. 
And when they’re hatched and they go down 
the river, there’s a little somethin’ in nature 
that tells ’em where. And when they come 
back, they put tags on ’em. Here’s a bunch 
of salmon swimmin’, and this salmon was 
spawned up the main river, and this salmon 
was spawned up the middle fork; and they just 
without hesitation—this one goes this way 
[points] and this one goes this way. It’s the 
craziest thing ever. And they come up there, 
and there is a salmon season. And you’re torn 
two ways on that; if you catch ’em after they 
spawn, they’re no good. So you catch ’em 
before they spawn; but then if you catch ’em 
before they spawn, then you’re killing a lot of 
unborn salmon, you know. So, it’s a thing, but 
when there’s a lot of’em, you don’t feel too bad 
about it. And for a while there, it was gettin 
real scarce. And it’s not back where it should 
be now. When I first was up there, there was 
a zillion salmon. But like many things, they 
put you—. And then it was handled poorly 
down below. That was a problem. 

The Indians down there, there’s no laws on 
them, so they can spear ’em, and apparently 
nothing can be done about that. They had 
some dams down there they built, and the 
fall of the water—and if water falls a far 
enough distance when it falls on other water, 
it produces nitrogen, which’ll kill the fish. And 
the fish were dying, and they couldn’t figure 
out why, and then they—. This is just what I 

Adventrues in Idaho 


read and talked to Bob Cole and all. But there 
really wasn’t too much interest in it. And we 
joined all the fish associations there were, and 
Bob got in it very deep. Then finally there 
was some interest, and committees formed, 
and, “What the hell’s goin’ on here?” And 
they discovered that the nitrogen actually 
killed the fish. Well, then how do you stop it? 
Well, by breaking the fall. Like if the water 
falls twenty feet, there’s no nitrogen; but if it 
falls forty feet, there’s nitrogen; and if it falls 
sixty feet, there’s no nitrogen. It’s just one of 
those things. So they discovered these things 
that they built, these dams and things—they 
were zillion-dollar dams—but they could 
put fixtures on ’em so that it would break. 
Instead of failin’ forty feet, it would fall thirty, 
and then it would run over here and fall—. 
So then with that, plus there were many fish 
being lost—just little side streams that nobody 
fished, nothing, and then the fish would get 
out in the field, you know, and just die out 
there, which they’ve closed those up, too. So 
it’s come back quite good. And then it varies 
from year to year, you know, ’cause they come 
back every four years. So if there were very 
few four years ago, then there’ll be fewer this 
year. And if there were a lot four years ago, 
then you can expect a lot of fish. So it’s all very 

I took a lot of interest in it because I 
admire the salmon, you know, and they swim 
all that way upstream. They don’t eat after 
they leave the ocean, and sixty-pound salmon 
when he leaves the ocean, he gets up our way, 
he’s a thirty-pound salmon, you know, all that 
swimming. It’s a crazy story. And they go up 
there, and you can see them spawn up—they 
get up beyond—in fact, west of Stanley is the 
spawning beds. And it’s an exciting story. And 
then, I’ve caught a lot of salmon, of course. I’m 
a fair fisherman, but I always have someone 
along that knows—like Bob Cole is excellent. 

He’s our guide up— well, that’s a story, too— 
an interesting story. 

We got the Lodge in ’65, and Bob Cole, 
who was the well driller from Twin Falls—very 
successful—he and his father (I mentioned 
his father bought the thing). I went fishing; 
before I even went in the middle fork, I fished 
the main river. And I love salmon fishin; it’s 
quite a thrill—you get a twenty, thirty pound 
salmon on your line in a little river, that is 
exciting! So I liked it, and it’s ’bout the only 
form of fishing I like. So I started fishing and 
enjoyed it, but I was a bum fisherman, and I 
had brains enough to know it. So I’d always 
have a guide, and he would take me the 
right—and you know, what was good last year, 
this year is different; the river changed in the 
winter, and so that hole’s no good any more. 
Also this is what they’re biting, plus puttin’ 
the hooks on—I can do it, but I don’t like to. 
So I had several guides and just got along fine 
with a guide, you know. And I always liked the 
people and admired them, and they seemed 
to get along with me. 

So year after year I’d have this guide, and 
then he’d move away, and this one and that 
one, and so on. And so one year I was up there, 
and I had the guide lined up. And he was 
from somewhere near Boise, where he worked 
in the winter, and then he’d come up in the 
summer. But then his daughter got in trouble 
or his wife was injured or something—all of 
a sudden he couldn’t come. So, and here it is 
June or middle of June—the salmon season 
opens day after tomorrow, and I have no 
guide. And so boy, what am I gonna do? 

So I went, and there was one fella I 
admired very much, who—I can look up his 
name. He owned a gas station in lower Stanley 
(there’s an upper Stanley and lower Stanley; 
lower Stanley doesn’t amount to much). But 
I admired him ’cause he took this nothin’ gas 
station and by working’ real hard, he built 


William F. Harrah 

it up into somethin’ and sold it out for a lot 
of money— later. I admired ’cause he was a 
hustler. So I bought gas there, and I liked him. 

And so I was in there, and we were 
talkin’—yackety, yackety, yack—and, “How’s 

And I said, “Oh, darn it! Salmon season 
opens day after tomorrow and I don’t have a 
guide!” I said, “Do you know any guides?” 

And he said, “God, no, I don’t.” And he 
said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute!” He said, 
“Do you know Bob Cole?” 

And I said, “Uh—2’ 

And he said, “Well, the fella over there.” 
And I’d seen him around. 

So I said, “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen him.” 

And he said, “Well, he’s from Twin, and 
he’s not a guide; he’s just a fisherman.” He said, 
“He owns his own business. But he loves to 
fish. Let me ask him if he’ll take you up.” 

I said, “Oh, gee, I don’t want to bother 
anybody,” which I really didn’t. Here’s an 
independent guy; he’s come up to go salmon 
fishin’, and then he’s gotta drag me along. 

And so he said, “Well, let me ask him!” 

And so I said, “Okay.” 

So I asked him, and he said he’d heard 
of me or somethin’— he said, “No, I’ll be 
glad to take—” So how do you do [gesture 
handshake] —. 

So we went, and Bob was just a super 
guide. And he could catch a fish just no 
problem at all, but he was always helpin’ me 
and helpin’ whoever was with us and baitin’ 
our hooks and puttin’ new hooks on and 
tellin’ you where to throw your line and all 
that—and just a wonderful guide! 

So we went fishing that year a lot. And 
then you could go fishing—now they’re two 
salmon a year; in those days it was I think 
two salmon in possession, so you could fish 
all year, you know, and give ’em to somebody 
and go fishin’ again. So I fished a lot. 

So it was either the first year or the 
second year, and Bob’s—nothin’; he wouldn’t 
even—well, he’d let me buy him his lunch. 
And by then we were good friends—’’Bob” 
and “Bill.” So one day I just got to him; I said, 
“I love our association and all, but,” I said, “I 
know you’re—” like he would take of f from 
Twin—that’s quite a ways (a hundred miles, a 
hundred ’n’ somethin’)—’’come up just to take 
me fishing I said, “I want to pay ya some—I 
don’t want to insult ya, but what’s right’s right.” 

And he said, “Oh—oh—.” 

And I said, “Well, think about it.” 

So he went, and a week went by and 
nothin’, and I said, “Well, did you think—?” 

And he said, “Well, yeah, I guess so.” 

And I said, “Okay,” and we’d been fishin’ 
that day, and I said, “Okay, can I pay ya for 

And he said, “Okay.” 

I said, “How much is it?” 

And he said—we’d been out all day—I 
think it was five dollars [laughs]. 

I said, “That’s terrible! That’s fifty cents an 

So [laughing] he said, “What do you 

I said, “Well, ten—twenty,” and I insisted 
on I think ten; I doubled it. And then the next 
day I thought, “Well, that’s not enough,” so 
then I think I got up to twenty. But he would 
never—you know—and he wasn’t there for the 
money. And it was just his expenses, is really 
what he was accepting. Plus he had to leave 
his wife at home, and I guess she was crabbin’ 
a little bit. And when he got, you know, paid, 
why it helped a little. 

But anyway, when we got the Lodge, why, 
Bob—and he knew we were getting it, and 
we’ve been there since, of course. By then his 
well drilling, I think there’d been a big spurt of 
it. There’d been a water shortage or something, 
or a threat of a water shortage. And so there’d 

Adventrues in Idaho 


been a lot of articles in the paper, well drillers 
are makin a lot of money, so a whole bunch of 
people went into well drilling business. And 
where he and his father had one competitor 
in forty miles, they all of a sudden had ten or 
twelve, so it was just nothin’. So they had it all 
worked out good because we were opening 
the Lodge, and I said, “How about cornin’ in 
there, Bob, as fishing guide?” 

And he—”Oh, wonderful, wonderful.” 
And he came in, and he’s been there ever since. 
And he did such a good job that— we had 
a lot of manager trouble there—so we made 
him a manager, and that didn’t work out. He’s 
an excellent fishing guide; he’s not a good 
manager. Some are, and some aren’t. And 
so that was extremely delicate to unpromote 
him from manager to fishing guide—back 
to fishing guide—but we enlarged the title 
a little more and got the money just right, 
and—. So then since then, we’ve had four 
or five or six or eight managers, and Bob’s 
still there. In fact, when the manager leaves, 
Bob’s the manager till we get a new one—till 
finally about two years ago we got a guy that 
fits, which is—usually somebody for every 
job, if you can find them. We finally found 
the right guy, and everything’s fine. But Bob’s 
still there. 

Then last year, my wife, Verna, who’s 
very small—she’d never been fishing (salmon 
fishing); she wasn’t interested. And the boys 
loved it, of course. So we’d go up, and there’s a 
lot of people there; you have to do it just right, 
and we have guests go up. But we went up, and 
many years it’s no good; it’s very poor, but last 
year was pretty good, so we went up. And this 
one day we went, and Verna went along. And 
so the boys—I think there were the three boys 
and me and Verna, and somebody else, like 
her father or somebody. So I caught the first 
fish (you’re allowed two), and one of the boys 
caught one, and her father caught one if he 

was there, and then the other boy caught one, 
and then I caught one, and—. So we all filled 
out—Verna hadn’t caught any [chuckles], and 
she—”Meee! I’m gonna quit!” 

And we—’’Bob, come and help Verna.” 
But she would throw it, you know, but she’d 
get caught and all this and this. And then she 
just—and there’s luck in it; her line was goin’ 
in the right place. And just the fish grabs it or 
it doesn’t; there’s a lotta luck in it. 

So we’d all caught two fish, I think. So 
finally—she hadn’t caught a fish! So finally, 
she was ready to quit, “let’s go,” you know. 
And the later in the day it gets, the worse it 
gets. And so—’’Well, try it.” Well, she’ll try it 
ten more times or something. None of us were 
payin’ attention; we were lookin’ at somethin’ 
else, and maybe people across the river were 
fishing and had something, so we weren’t 
paying attention. So we looked, and she’s got 
a fish on—oh, wow! 

So, we—you know, hooray, she’s catching 
a fish, and then Bob instantly said—could tell 
by her line and all—he said, “That’s a big one.” 
And, “Be sure the hook’s set and all,” which it 
was. And you learn to fish yourself, you know; 
that’s real important. Oh, that day I’d finally 
hooked one and let her pull it in, you know, 
’cause I felt—you know, which was pullin’ one 
in, but it’s not the same. Well, anyway, this 
one she hooked so she— “Oh, I hooked my 
own!”—hooray, hooray! 

So then we realized it was a big one, so 
then—and we got a look at it, and it was a big 

So up there they run a—oh, you catch 
a salmon, and a good one is, what, twelve 
pounds is pretty good—I mean I’m happy 
with a twelve-pound salmon. And fifteen is 
good and twenty is very good. We caught 
maybe eight fish among us before she caught 
one—was, I would say, fifteen, twelve, 
eighteen, twenty-one, nineteen—like that. 


William F. Harrah 

So we could see this was a big one, and 
so she kept pullin’ and pullin’, and it’s twenty, 
thirty minutes and got it in close, and she is 
very tiny So she was—you know—pole was 
way down, so we had another guide along— 
well, Bob was there, but this other guide—. 
So the only help she had was he got in front 
of her, and she could rest her pole on his 
shoulder, like this, you know. But she was 
still doin’ this [reeling in], but just to keep her 
from pullin’ [chuckling] her in the river! 

So anyway, it came in finally, and we take 
a net along, intelligently—a great big net. So 
we saw it, and it was a great big fish. And we 
thought, “Oh God, don’t lose that one!” And 
some fish, they’ll fight right at the end, and 
he kinda came in and just kinda swam in the 
net, and we got him; Bob pulled him in. So it 
was a huge fish. And we weighed ’im, and it 
was thirty-seven pounds, ten ounces, which is 
the second biggest fish ever caught up there. 
Bob Cole caught a thirty-eight pounder one 
time or a forty pounder, but—. And then we 
care about, you know—’’Well, you didn’t catch 
one in a long time, but when you did, you—.” 

So we had it mounted, and then we have it 
mounted; it came out—you send it away and 
it takes months. And then it came back—out 
to HAG, and it’s like that. And then we’ll 
send it up to the Lodge, and it’ll be—we 
have a barroom up there, and it’ll be in the 
barroom—Verna’s name on it and the date 
and all that. And then, of course, we say, “Well, 
boy, took you a long time, but when you did 
it, you did good.” 

And now you get in a fishing conversation 
about anything, she’s—”1 caught—I caught 
the second biggest salmon ever—!” [Laughs] 
But see, it’s her thirty-seven pounder there; he 
had to weigh sixty-five, seventy pounds when 
he left the ocean! It’s exciting. 

Also something of interest up there, we 
have the barroom, which is an extremely 

popular place there, of course. And then it 
was too small, so we added on, and we did it 
beautifully. And we added a huge room, and 
it’s almost like one now; if you didn’t know, 
you’d think it was one room. And it’s the bar, 
and you go in here and it’s much larger. And 
we have a pool table and a Ping-Pong table, 
and it’s laid out just right: it’s plenty big, and 
there’s chairs for people to watch if people 
are playing pool, and it’s—you know, there’s 
a lot of wall space. And I started collecting 
Western art some years ago just ’cause I liked 
it. And I had a Russell; I remember I paid five 
thousand dollars for it. And I thought, “Gee, 
that’s a lotta money,” and now it’s worth forty, 
I guess. 

And then I got into it and got interested, 
and we had this room in there, I said, “Gee, 
let’s get some more.” So we started really 
goin’ after the stuff. And I’d go to the sale 
up in Great Falls. On Russell’s birthday or 
thereabouts they have a Russell auction of 
Western art up there. And we used to go— 
we kinda quit going ’cause every year they’d 
have two or three Russells. And there’s other 
stuff, of course, that’s good, but I especially 
liked Russells. They have a Russell museum 
in Great Falls ’cause that was his home, and 
it’s full of Russell paintings; they have several 
hundred in there. And then the money from 
the auction that they would make, they would 
go buy some more Russells. So it just became 
a defeating thing in a way. I think I was to 
one auction where they didn’t even have one 
Russell. Oh, and they’d have a lot of phony 
stuff—this is something that he was purported 
to have done, or this is a good student of his— 
you know, not a real Russell. It kinda pooped 
out. We watch it closely, and they know what 
we want. And we say, “Hey, you got any real 
Russells,” to call us up. 

We’ve missed a lot, but on purpose, 
because the kind of Russells I like, and as 

Adventrues in Idaho 


I’m the boss, none of the blood and thunder 
where there’s a horse down with a broken 
leg, or there’s a bear chewin’ the head off of 
something, that kind—none of that. And we 
have some real cute ones; I hope you can see 
’em sometime. Like one is “Forest Friends,” 
and it’s four or five deer. And there on the 
background, there’s kind of a log; and on this 
side there’s a little rabbit with his ears up, and 
he’s lookin’ like that and the deer lookin’ at 
the rabbit like that, you know. And done so 
perfect, you know; they’re just—every muscle, 
every head and—. One deer is kinda over 
here, and there’s one deer clear in the back— 
you oughta see, you know, just—that kind of 
stuff we have. But we have about five or six of 
his now, I think—some real good stuff. 

Then we have another one that is unsigned, 
and as I said earlier, I don’t like the unsigned 
stuff. But it has the history on it, and I bought 
it at this auction for I think— one of the 
auctions—for five thousand dollars, which 
at the time was—it’s a very good buy. And it’s 
a Russell without question; it’s unsigned, but 
the way it’s done and the history and—. What 
bar is that? The bar that he hung around in 
Great Falls? Anyway this friend of his owned 
the bar, and it’s in the books. And the back 
bar had mirrors, of course, and he said, “Hey, 
Charlie, would you paint somethin’ up there 
for me?” So he painted those two mirrors, and 
it’s painted here and painted here, and then 
up the top there’s a—I think it’s an elk. Yeah. 
It’s just a beautiful thing, and the mirror, the 
whole thing. And that whole thing was for 
sale—the mirrors mounted, just the way it 
came out of the bar. And nobody bid on it 
except me to amount to anything, and I was 
amazed how cheap I got it, talkin’ around— 
and there’s other collectors, you know, and I 
said, you know, “How come you want—’” 

And he said, “Well, I have no place for 
it.” He said, “My house is—” so and so. And 

he said, “I couldn’t—that has to go as one 
piece,” and he said, “there’s no place for—I 
have no place.” And most of the collectors, 
they just had no place and it was heavy and 

So we took it to the Lodge and put it over 
the fireplace, and it’s as though it was made 
for it. We didn’t have to move anything an 
inch. And you look at it, it looks like, well, you 
built the fireplace to fit the paintings. And so 
it’s just so beautiful, and this mirror and all. 

And we have some other artists—what’s 
our Number Two? He’s similar. Seltzer’s 
our Number Two. We have about three of 
his. Then we have one Remington, but the 
Remington’s a bronze. 

Seltzer has one I just love; I got it at the 
Great Falls auction, It’s painted on an elk skin. 
The elk skin is mounted on a board, And it’s 
a painting of an elk. It’s just an extremely rare 
thing. And this beautiful—it sounds kinda 
corny, but it’s—. I think we have three or four 
Seltzers and the one Remington and four or 
five Russells. 

I didn’t tell ya how you get in there, did 
I. Well, it’s a nineteen hundred-foot strip, 
which scares a lot of people— you do go 
down through and, you know—but the pilots, 
I think they’ve made two thousand landings 
in there now with no trouble. And we have a 
Twin Otter airplane, which is two engine and 
is designed for that. 

There’s a real cute story on that. Before we 
bought the Lodge, we had a King Air, which 
wasn’t really the plane; it was borderline—you 
could take it. And we had a Queen Air and 
King Air, and they weren’t really that type of 
plane, and we were looking around; we didn’t 
know what we wanted. And so I was at the 
Lodge (this is a real interesting story), and 
I looked up— I heard a plane—I looked up, 
and it was a Twin Otter. 


William F. Harrah 

Well, an Otter is made by DeHaviland of 
Canada, and it’s a backwoods plane. And there 
was an Otter with a single engine. Then when 
they put two engines, they called it the Twin 
Otter. And it’s a real awkward-lookin’ thing. 
It has a big wing and a big fuselage, and the 
wheels below, and the wheels don’t retract, 
and it’s real awkward. 

And I looked up, and here’s this big plane, 
and I thought, “Well, that’s an interesting 
plane.” I saw it wasn’t a homemade thing; it 
was a well—you know. I thought, “Gee, what 
is it?” And I could see they were circling, and 
they landed on the strip. It’s a state strip, but 
it’s just a half a mile, so I went rushin’ over to 
the strip. And here’s the Otter, and I was oh 
[mouth dropped] like that. And the pilot got 
out and said, “Hello. Mr. Harrah here?” 

And I said, “Yeah.” 

And he said, “Well—” (I’m just lookin’ at 
the plane like a kid, you know), and he said, 
“Well, we’re from Twin Otter of Canada, and 
this is Twin Otter, and we’re making a tour of 
United States.” 

And I said, “Well, how did you happen to 
come here?” 

And he said, “Well, we were in Boise and 
asked if there’s anybody might be interested 
in one of these, and somebody said, ‘Well, 
that Harrah in the Middle Fork might—he’s 
got some money; he might.’” So “Well, do you 
want to take a ride?” 

And I said, “Gee, I sure do!” 

And so we took of f, and we flew 
somewhere. And they had a real pro pilot. 
And so he said, well, get up in the seat beside 
him, which I did. And he, “You wanta fly?” 

And I said, “No, no, I can fly a little plane; 
this isn’t my stuff, but I’d like to ride up here 
and see what you do.” So we flew, and we went 
somewhere and landed, and then we came 

And so we come in, and it’s a nineteen- 
hundred-foot strip. So we came in, and he 
said, “I’m gonna show you how this thing 
can land and stop.” He said, “This is really 
a show-off stop.” So he came in, and as he 
landed, he flew real slow—gee, he was down 
to forty miles an hour, something like that, 
when he landed. And he put on the brakes, 
and he reversed the props at the same time, so 
we landed and stopped in about two hundred 

So I said, “My, wow, that’s something! Gee, 
that’s unbelievable!” 

So he said, “Okay,” he said, “what would 
you like to do now, Mr. Harrah?” 

And of course, there’s where we got in, up 
there. So I said just what he wanted me to say. 
I said, “Well, taxi up to the other end of the 

And he said, “That’s too far to taxi; I’ll 
fly.” So he revved it up and then let the brakes 
go, and we just jumped up in the air. And we 
flew eight hundred feet or so; then he put it 
on again. 

So [laughing] I said, “We can get together 
on the numbers?” I said, “You just sold an 
airplane.” And then we did, of course, and the 
price was, I think, five hundred somethin’— 
five hundred thousand dollars. But it’s a very 
large—it’s nineteen seats, and it has a big cab. 
And course, you can haul—we haul old cars 
in it and things. 

And then surprisingly, they were extremely 
popular. We got one of the very first ones. And 
we flew it several years, and they came out 
with a later model. And we knew the later 
model was coming out, so we ordered it. And 
so when we got it, then we sold the other one. 
And we sold the first one for more than we 
paid for it and enough to buy this new one 
’cause they were just—like in Alaska and all, 
which is where our other one went, and then 

Adventrues in Idaho 


got cracked up, up there, which was pilot 
error— those were super planes. 

But then I mentioned the car—we have 
antique cars there, which fit really, you know, 
good in there. And you do have to go from 
the airport, so we have Jeeps and Land Rovers 
and that sort of thing for general use. But 
then we also have (let me see, what do we 
have now?) Pope Hartford, 1911; and a ’26 
Chevrolet station wagon; and a 'em—I think 
we have a Model T— Model T bus, a 1914 bus. 
I think that’s all we have, and then I think we 
have three pieces, plus the other, you know. 
And a person’s first trip, we meet ’em at the 
airport with either the Model T bus or the 
Pope Hartford. And it’s a little dirt road over 
to the Lodge, and we have a bridge there; you 
land on one side of the river, and the Lodge is 
on the other. But we have a bridge we put in 
that’s a wonderful bridge. That was fun doin’ 
that because there’s a lot in buildin’ bridges, 
and this is a steel bridge, but we put logs on 
it so it looks like a wooden bridge, except you 
can see the suspension. It’s the prettiest bridge 
on the river—very artistic. And it’s big enough 
for a Model T bus or a Pope Hartford. 

It sounds neat for a place that’s supposed to be 
just purely business. 

Yeah, uh-huh. Yeah, it is—well, it’s so 
much fun—people cornin’ down the river, 
and their first trip, you know, and they think 
they’re in the middle of nowhere, and they 
come along, here’s an old Pope Hartford 
and—. Never forget one; there’s usually boat 
parties, there’s three or four boats. And we’re 
out by the swimming pool one day; it was a 
beautiful day, and there were six or eight of 
us in our swimming suits out there. I think 
we were having a buffet lunch and drinkin’ 
our beer or our vodka or whatever, and a 

boat party came along, and they were kind 
of a do-it-yourself boat party—two or three 
kids or teenagers or twenty-year-olds. And 
the first boat— and it was so fun—one of 
’em looked and [gasps, mouth open] — and 
he turned around and yelled. And the other 
boat wasn’t in sight yet, but they could hear. 
He said, “Hey, Joe! Wait till you get here and 
see how the other half lives” or “other rich 
people live!” And it is, I love to close my eyes 
because you come around, and you see nothin’ 
but backwoods, you know— rocks and trees 
and no civilization whatsoever. And you 
come around, and we have a beautiful lawn, 
a beautiful swimming pool, and beautiful 
Lodge, you know; and you just can’t believe 

What’s the real purpose of the Lodge, now ? 

Well, we have to have a business purpose, 
of course; but primarily—and it is, it is the 
true business purpose. Of course, the rules 
are so strict now, it’s very difficult; but it was 
to entertain our good customer. There is an 
elk season up there and a deer, or course. Deer 
is nothin’, but elk is pretty rare. We take some 
of our good customers hunting up there, and 
some of our good customers on boat parties, 
plus our stars. Many of our stars have been 
there. Jim Nabors’s been there many times, 
and John Denver’s been there, and— oh, tryin’ 
to think who hasn’t been there. Sammy Davis 
hasn’t been there [chuckling]; it’s not his kind 
of thing. Bill Cosby’s goin’ next month. It’s 
great for families. We got a lot of our stars up 
there, and they just love it. Paul Anka wrote 
a song in there. So they’ve all been there just 
about. You can almost tell by—like Sammy 
Davis doesn’t like to get out of New York or 
Beverly Hills, you know. But depending, like 
Jim Nabors has been there six or eight times. 


William F. Harrah 

But it’s very difficult now, unfortunately, 
with the new tax laws. And we can do it, but 
it’s like you take Jim Nabors up there, and you 
have to talk about his new contract, which 
is phony as can be because we—you know, 
that isn’t where you talk about contracts, you 
know In fact, many of’em, you don’t even talk 
contract; you just go on year after year. The 
money’s adjusted to whatever it should be, 
and it’s just no discussion at all, especially with 
our relationship with our stars. Like Sammy 
Davis, we’ve never talked money yet with ’im. 
We gave him raise after raise after raise and 
not—we have a top figure. Sammy’s been at 
it as long as we’ve had a top figure, so there’s 
nothin’ to talk about; just how many weeks 
he’s gonna work. That’s it. 

But you can see how much I have to do 
in Idaho—goin’ to Sun Valley and the various 
things there, and Pettit, and Stanley and all the 
things there, and Middle Fork, and goin’ down 
the river, salmon fishing and—. I’ve been up 
there for the hunting season. One wife of mine 
liked to hunt. I just don’t; I hunted in the old 
days, when I got talked into it. remember 
every animal I killed, and I regret it; I just 
don’t like—. And I’d still fish, and peopled 
say, “Well, how come?” You know, you catch 
a salmon, you’re killin’ a salmon, and you kill 
a deer—what’s the difference? I don’t know, 
just a salmon’s a fish, which, I don’t know, 
they—I can’t picture a fish even thinking up 
there. You know, I think they’re all instinct 
or something, which maybe my thinking is 
faulty; but a deer’s an animal and it has—you 
know. I remember I killed a antelope. And 
there was the papa and the mama, and I killed 
the stag or whatever it is, you know. And it 
was—I didn’t hit it good; I hit it in the leg and 
broke its leg and it was tryin to get up, and 
the other was there—what’s the matter?— and 
just—you know, I spoiled a little happy family 
there. I’ve regretted it ever since, So I didn’t 

do that; I only went one year, just ’cause I got 
talked into it. And there is a race, and I respect 
’em, you know; if they want to do it, fine. But 
there are hunters, you know, and, “Hey, you 
want to go kill somethin’?” And it’s okay, and 
then it they wanna, it’s their thing, not mine. 


A Love Affair 
with Automobiles 

Few material things have been 
as important to America as the 
automobile. The manufacture of 
the automobile was the root of our 
industrial growth, and for decades 
now it has been the central support 
of our economic growth/economy. 

We are all tied to the automobile by 
history, business, by emotion. The 
automobile deserves to be preserved 
and remembered. 

William F. Harrah 

Would you comment? 

Okay. I didn’t write that. Well, I agree with 
it. Ken Purdy—I think I mentioned him one 
time, didn’t I?—the writer and the car guy 
that I like very much. He’s gone now. Really 
a brilliant man. He did an article, first article 
on me at HAC about some cars; and then he 
asked me my philosophy, and I said, “Huh?” 
So he wrote that out, and he said, “Do you 
agree with it?”—which I really believe in it, 
but he could talk better than I could. 

What about the cars? 

Why don’t you start with the first car that you 
remember, and how you felt about it, and how 
you got interested in cars — collecting, or first 
driving. Then, you were at one time thinking 
about having a career as a car dealer. Just kind 
of the history of your interest. 

I don’t remember what is the first car 
I remember. I can remember, let’s see—we 
had a 1916 Chalmers, which I think we 
bought in 1917. My father was pretty good 
at that—in buying good used cars. But I can 
remember that in ‘17, 50 I was six years old. 
And I remember other cars of the period; 
just I was really interested in cars, course. 
I remember the family cars better. We had 
the Chalmers; then about the same period 
we had a Mitchell roadster. My mother 
had a Scripps-Booth. Every family car we 
ever had I have a duplicate—or we have a 
duplicate of it in the Collection, just for old 
time sake. Then, there’s just so many cars, 
it’s hard to—. 


William F. Harrah 

It might just be kind of fun for you to think back 
and decide which car you really fell in love with, 
or whether you fell in love with automobiles as 
an abstract. 

No, I liked—and all you can identify with 
is what you have contact with. And as we 
lived in Venice in this period, there weren’t 
too many nice cars in that area. So the nice 
cars are the fancy cars that existed, but I 
didn’t know about, because they didn’t—. 
But I remember a Packard Twin Six that was 
in our area—or I saw in our area. The man 
didn’t live there, but he drove by. And I can 
still remember that car the day I saw it, and 
I knew what it was. I’d heard about it, but 
twelve-cylinder car, wow! And for years, a 
Chummy roadster— that was a roadster with 
a little back seat—and people said, “What 
would you like if you could have anything you 
wanted?” For years it was a Packard Twin Six 
Chummy roadster. 

Then our first Franklin was very 
impressive. That was 1922. And my father 
had been tryin’ to buy a Franklin for several 
years, a good used one, and they were a very 
popular car, very expensive, and very high 
quality, and because of that there just weren’t 
any good used ones available. So I remember 
he (what’s the word you use when you’re 
tryin’ to make a decision and you can’t do it 
and you worry about it—what’s the word?) 
agonized. If he ever agonized, he agonized 
over that; buyin’ that Franklin and payin’, 
I think it was thirty-two hundred dollars. 
And I don’t think he’d ever paid over fifteen 
hundred for a car in his life, or probably less. 
And thirty-two hundred at one whack! But 
he just thought and thought and thought, and 
finally he said, “By golly, I’m gonna buy it,” 
and he did. So that was our first new car. And 
although they were known as an old man’s 
car and they didn’t perform too great, but as 

you got to know them and as I grew up with 
them, I gained respect for them. Found that 
although they weren’t as fast as some cars, 
they were very high quality and there was a 
good reason for their being. 

That was the family car—the Franklin in 
’22. And then I think about ’24-’25, I got a 
Model T Ford with another kid— just an old 
one—that we played with. Really was just a 
plaything—we didn’t really drive it on the 
street; we were too young, anyway. 

Then I wanted a car very badly, and in ’25, 
we bought another Franklin, sedan. And then 
I wanted a car, and my sister wanted a car, and 
my father (I don’t know, I never did figure 
out that deal) —he bought another Franklin 
touring car, same model, but it was a touring 
car. And that was for my sister and I to use, 
which wasn’t our kind of a car and it really 
didn’t work—it just kinda worked, ’cause he 
also used the car, so it was a three-way deal. 
And there was a constant turmoil about who 
was gonna get to use the car. 

So then in ’26, we moved to Hollywood, 
and I started in Hollywood High School, and 
it was some distance. Prior to that I could go to 
high school on the streetcar; it was very easy. 
But in ’26 we moved to Hollywood, and it was 
several miles to school, and I really needed a 
car, which I didn’t come out and tell him—I 
hinted about it, and finally he agreed. 

And I got a ’26 Chevrolet roadster, which I 
can remember very clearly the day we bought 
it and the day it arrived and the boxcar on the 
train and getting it out of the train and getting 
it home and all—that’s just like yesterday. That 
was my first car. It was a pretty good car, for 
the period. I dolled it all up. All of this—see, 
the reason I’m hesitating, this has all been 
done so many times. Should I do it again? 

Well, we’ll try to get as much detail in here as 
possible. Tell now about the Chevrolet. 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


Oh yeah. I didn’t do any mechanical work 
on it, but—oh, maybe a little—I could adjust 
the valves, but—. I left it real stock; it’s the only 
stock car [chuckling] I think I ever had. But I 
dolled it all up appearance-wise. I lowered it, 
and I had special wheels which were an extra 
that came with the car, but I painted them a 
pretty color. And I had a lot of nickel work 
done on it—nickel plated the headlights, and 
I nickel plated the dashboard. And all those 
things I did myself in a way, like the headlight, 
I’d take it off and take the shell, separate it 
from the reflector, and take it down to the 
plater, and he’d nickel plate it, and then I’d put 
it back together and put it on the car—I did 
all of that. 

Then that’s the days of spotlights and 
roadlights and things, which still are, but 
they were a big thing then. And I remember 
the Chevrolet, I think it had twenty-six lights 
on it. course in stock it had five lights—two 
headlights, two sidelights, and one taillight— 
but I added roadlights and spotlights and 
running board lights and then another 
taillight and another stoplight and—. And I 
wasn’t the only one; it was kind of the thing to 
do in those days—to light your car up pretty 

And also I think I had eleven horns on it, 
something like that. It came with one horn, 
and then there were very fancy horns. It was 
a cow kind of a horn—sounded like a cow 
mooing, and then they had a Spartan (I forget 
the name)—it’s a kind of a trumpet horn that 
was electric, and it played a tune—da cia da 
cia., something like that. I had one of those, 
and they were quite expensive. I think they 
were around thirty-five dollars. And I just 
saved my money and bought one; I wanted 
one so badly. And I was about the only—a 
lot of Lincolns and things had those on ’em, 
but I was about the only Chevrolet with those 
horns. But it was a curio, cute little car. And 

I had a special exhaust pipe on it. And I 
remember it would go fifty-five miles an hour, 
and I drove it fifty-five miles an hour all the 
time. And, of course, I got a lot of tickets, but 
I never had any accidents; I was a very good 
driver. And like fifty-five in Hollywood with 
two-wheel brakes sounds kinda crazy, but 
there really wasn’t too much traffic then so—. 
About all you had to really watch out for was 
the police. And they weren’t really too active. 

Then I drove it to a football game one 
time, and I didn’t have a special lock on it. And 
any Chevrolet key would work it, and—or I 
may have left the key in the ignition, although 
I never did that, but I kinda think I may have 
that time ’cause I was late to the game, and 
I was running, and I was quite an ardent 
football fan. But anyway, it was stolen, and 
when it was recovered, it had been stripped 
of all the lights and the—what else was gone? 
It was stripped of about anything you could 
get off of it in a hour. But most of it was there. 
But it was recovered, and then I—it was my 
own fault. So I didn’t have any money, and my 
father knew it was my own fault, so he didn’t 
help me much. But I pieced together; I got a 
pair of headlights here, and I got a pair of this 
and that there and put it together, so it was 
an acceptable car. And I sold it. I forget what 
I started driving then. I think I was without 
a car for a little while. And then I got sick, 
so I was out of action for about a year. Then 
when I came back, I got a ’29 Ford. It was 
really a need. And my father was real nice 
that time; it was time for another car, and 
he took me down and bought me just about 
what I wanted. And that’s when I wanted to 
step up in class and get a—he said, “What do 
you want?” 

And I said, “Well, a Chrysler 72,” which 
was a fifteen-hundred-dollar car. 

And he said, “Well, who do you know—” 
he told me that when I was a little boy, that 


William F. Harrah 

anything that my friends had I could have. So 
in the car he said, “What do you want?” 

And I said, “A Chrysler.” 

He said, “Well, who do you know has a 

I said, “Well, nobody.” 

He said, “Who do you know that has a 
equivalent?” And I said Paul Graid, who had 
an Auburn. And he said, “But Paul Graid isn’t 
your close friend. He’s just an acquaintance.” 
So then I named another boy that had a nice 
car. And he wasn’t a close friend. He said, 
“Well, what does Todd Brown have?” Well, he 
had a Ford. “What does Harry Clamp have?” 
Well, he had a Chevrolet. So my father said, 
“Well, that’s the kinda car you should have— 
in that class.” He says, “You can get whatever 
you want, but it has to be in that class,” so I 
picked the ’29 Ford. 

And I dolled it all up. I did a real good 
job on it. And I did the work myself; i put on 
special wheels and overhead valves, it was 
about a sixty-mile-an-hour car, and when I 
finished with it, it’d do eighty miles an hour. 
That’s the one where I really got arrested every 
week. [Chuckles] And I told you that story, 
didn’t I? [I think you did.] Yeah, that Harrah 
in Juvenile Court and all that. 

I worked in a parking lot in Venice in 
1926 for my father, which I really loved. 
We lived in Hollywood, and he owned the 
parkin’ lot in Venice, and I wanted to go to 
work there. And, well, it’s too far, but I went 
down every Saturday and Sunday. And I 
went home at night, so I’d go down Saturday 
in the morning and be there; things didn’t 
get going till maybe nine or ten. But I had to 
take the streetcar from near where I lived in 
Hollywood clear down to Santa Monica down 
to Venice, which was a good hour or so. And 
then at night I would go back and—back and 
forth. But I remember I think I got fifty cents 
an hour. And we worked twelve to fourteen 

hours a day, so I made real good money for a 

But the important thing was that all these 
different cars came in, and I was the only 
kid could drive them all. And the reason is 
because I d read up on all of’em; before they 
even came in, I knew the shift on a Dodge, and 
I knew the shift— most cars had a standard 
shift, but there were a few oddballs like 
Franklin and Dodge and Buick, they shifted 
differently. Also the Model T Ford—I’d never 
driven a Model T. I’d read in the book how 
to drive it, and I had to teach myself how to 
drive a Model T which wasn’t easy to do. But 
I did it. I could drive a Model T today, but 
it was—you have to hold the clutch halfway 
down, which is real tricky at first. We were 
surrounded by railroad tracks of the Pacific 
Electric; and I remember the first time I drove 
one, I couldn’t stop it, and I drove right over 
the railroad track. And the other kids were 
lookin’ at me like kind of weird, and I didn’t 
want to admit I couldn’t drive it, so I said 
I—some goofy story like I did it on purpose 
[laughs.] “Why?” I wanted to see how it rode 
or somethin’, but—. I remember an awful lot 
of cars then; that was really fun. 

Then in Hollywood, at Hollywood High 
School I worked in a parkin’ lot there during 
school, and that was in the late twenties. 
And that was a real good experience because 
it was next to a theater, and our trade like 
the matinees was—well, matinee, we had 
a show; but then we had the shoppers. But 
at night it was all theater people, and that’s 
when the Packards and the Lincolns and the 
Duesenbergs came in, and the Cords and—. 
I just loved my job. And I would’ve paid them 
for workin. That’s the one where I got paid 

That’s one of my favorite stories. Everybody 
got fifty cents an hour, and we were all even 
(there was about six or eight of us). But I loved 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


my job so much—plus there were some tips, 
pretty good tips—I mean a quarter and half 
a dollar— that I would—a car would drive 
in, and we would go up. We’d sell ’em the 
ticket ’cause we were issued tickets, which was 
customary, and they were numbered, so you 
couldn’t cheat. And you would sell the man 
with—fifty cents for a park. I remember it 
was fifty cents, which was pretty high in those 
days. And then you’d put the ticket on the car 
and you’d give him a ticket, and you’d get in 
the car and drive it down and park it, and then 
come back and do it over again. And because I 
liked it so much, plus the tips, I guess, I would 
run real—all the kids’d run, but I’d run real 
fast. And I could drive so good that I could 
drive a car down and back it in, just in one 
motion—just go swish-swish [gesture]—no 
matter what I was driving and be out of the car 
and up. And so I was actually parking two to 
one. So the owner of the parkin’ lot—he was 
a real interesting old fella, and he didn’t come 
around too often. He had the manager who we 
all hated. We called him “Little Caesar.” But 
the owner was a real—we liked the owner, and 
we hated the manager. So he came around one 
time, or several times, and saw me working. 
So he told the manager to pay me a dollar an 
hour. And the manager—uh, da da da, “All 
the other boys get fifty cents; why should he 
get a dollar?” 

And he said, “’cause he does twice as 
much work.” So he did; they paid me a 
dollar an hour, which I just loved. And we 
worked from, say, seven o’clock at night to 
eleven—yeah, that was it. (Was that right? 
No, the show started at eight-something’; 
so say, we worked seven-thirty to about ten- 
thirty. That’s what?—three hours.) It was a 
four-hour shift, so say, seven to eleven. And 
the boys got two dollars (that was it) for the 
four hours. But I could work seven to nine, 
and I got two dollars, ’cause all you did from 

nine o’clock on—or maybe it was eight-thirty 
when the show started, but there’re always a 
few stragglers—you just watched the cars till 
the show broke, and then—. We did, like most 
places, they’ll just let you come and get your 
car and not bother, but we bothered with the 
tickets. They kinda had to match up; and of 
course, if they didn’t, we usually let ’em go, 
but, we just didn’t let ’em go. 

But we’re supposed to be talkin’ about cars 
[chuckles], but I remember that 

This is part of your experience with cars. It’s 
worth discussing. 

Yeah, I remember one time, the first 
time I ever drove a Duesenberg, a man came 
in—that’s one of my favorite stories. And 
there weren’t too many Duesenbergs, and he 
came—. So very rare. And so this beautiful 
blue Murphy—we have one just like it, of 
course, only a different color—Murphy sedan 
came in, a real nice man driving it. There was 
a premier at the Chinese Theater which was 
across the street. Quite often, we got cars 
parked there because it was so crowded at the 
premier, and we were only a block away, and 
it was pretty neat. But then there was—you 
know, they had the kleig lights and all that. 
And all the stars would drive up in their limos 
and town cars and get out, and the stars, the 
lights—you’ve seen it on movies, I’m sure. So 
this fella came in his Duesenberg, and he was 
in a tuxedo, and his girlfriend and another 
couple, and they were all dressed real nice. 
So he looked us over; there were about six 
kids standin’ there ’cause it was—I think our 
cars were all in, and we were five or six of us 
there. And they were all pretty sloppy ’cause 
when you worked, you could dress any way 
you wanted; but I had on my moleskins pants, 
I remember, which were dirty. We all—you 
know, moleskins, you didn’t wear ’em till 


William F. Harrah 

they got dirty; that was the style. But I had 
on a white sweater and my collar outside the 
sweater. And it was a pretty white sweater, 
and it was real clean. I looked real neat. So 
I looked ten times better than the rest of the 
kids. So he said, “Come here.” So I went over 
to him. 

I said, “Yes, sir.” 

And he said, “We’re goin’ to the Chinese 
Theater,” and he said, “here’s what I want to 
do.” He said, “We got this Duesenberg, and,” 
he said, “I want to drive up in front. I want to 
show my car off” (he was real frank), “and get 
out.” So he said, “Here’s what I’d like to do.” 
He said, “You drive up, you drive us up, and 
let us out, and then bring the car back here,” 
and he told me where to hide the key; it was 
under the right front tire, I think. “Lock 
it up ’cause,” he said, “wee re gonna be late.” 
And he said, “That way, why, we’ll drive up in 
our Duesenberg.” 

And I said, “Oh, gee, that’d be fine. Okay.” 
And he gave me a dollar tip. So I got in; I’d 
never driven a Duesenberg before. We’re lined 
up, you know—the traffic—and I squeezed 
in, got my place. And I knew how to start a 
Duesenberg, but I was so afraid that I might 
kill the engine, so I kept it revved up fairly 
well, but I didn’t speed it up so much that it 
was goofy, where it would bug him. But I just 
had a horror of getting up in front and killing 
the engine. 

But anyway, we drove up, and I’m in my 
white—and all the lights and the zzz and the 
microphone [gesture to mouth]— “Who’s 
this,” you know; and they go out, in they went. 
So I pulled out and didn’t kill the engine—I 
was real proud of myself—and started down 
on Hollywood Boulevard. And I started to 
turn around and go back to the parking lot. 
And then I thought, “Well, gee whiz, he’s in 
that show; he’s gonna be in there for four 
hours. [Laughing] Maybe I ought to just 

go a little further.” So I did. I went down on 
Sunset Boulevard and drove. And I didn’t 
hot rod it at all; I’m real proud of myself that 
way. But I drove it along real dignified, and 
course, other cars were cornin’ alongside, 
’cause Duesenbergs were pretty rare. And 
they’re lookin’ at me, you know; and I looked 
straight ahead—I didn’t look to the left or the 
right— and just drove. And once in a while I’d 
hear, “Ah, that’s Bill Harrah! Hey, Bill!” And 
I’d drive—. I drove out on Sunset, I think clear 
out to the Strip, and turned around and came 
back. Then I was gonna go somewhere else, 
and then there would have been ten or fifteen 
minutes. And I got to thinkin, I was kinda 
guilty, so I took it back and parked it and did 
what he told me to. That was unbelievable—a 
Duesenberg in those days—it was bigger and 
far ahead of everything else. But we had Rolls 
Royces in there, and we had Bugattis—. 

And quite often, you could park your 
own car (we allowed you to), but we also 
told ’em—and we had permission—to tell 
’em it was against the rules because a lot of 
people come in and maybe just be a Buick or 
something, and “Oh, I want to park my own 
car,” because it was new. 

And we’d say, “Oh, no, sir, that’s the rules— 
don’t permit that.” And one out of ten about 
would drive out, and the other nine would 
grumble, and then they’d let you do it. And 
the reason for that was, not that we wanted to 
drive the car, but it would take them forever 
to get around to where they were supposed 
to be, and then when they backed it in, and 
they’d be crooked, and it just really messed up 
everything. So we just said, no. But if a person 
really insisted—or, if they tipped [laughs], 
well, they could park their own car. 

I remember a fella came in in a Bugatti 
Type 35, which is a real racing type car, 
although you could drive it on the street. But 
he came in and “Rrrrrrr” [making noise of 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


car]— said, “Where do you want it?” And 
there’s one I didn’t say ’cause I was afraid I 
couldn’t drive it, ’cause I’d never driven a 
Bugatti, and they’re entirely different or quite 
different. So I said, “Right here, Sir!” and 
showed him where to put it. 

That’s when I started goin to auto shows. I 
can’t remember my first auto show, but it had 
to be in the ’20s. My father was just wonderful; 
he was a great father. He knew that I loved 
auto shows, and there was one every year in 
L.A., and we lived in Venice at first. And it 
was quite a ways, but he went out of his way 
and took me into the auto show and tagged 
around with me till he’d get bored. He liked 
cars but not—he wasn’t nutty; he just—. I’d 
spend all day, just about, and he’d patiently 
wait or say, “I’ll be here or there.” 

I’d go with maybe a kid friend, get 
literature from every car, which, of course, 
kids still do that today. And sometimes they 
wouldn’t want to give you the literature ’cause 
you were just a kid, so we knew where they hid 
it usually, and we went around in back and got 
it. And we’d have arms like that [gesture full] 
full. I kept that for years, and then moving 
around so much, I lost it. I think somebody 
threw it out. But course we have copies today 
in the Collection; in our library, we have just 
about everything. But it would be nice to have 
had all those that I collected myself. 

But the car story ties in—this is various 
periods, like we re up to ’29 Ford, and then 
I kinda jump along—I mean the family cars 
were Franklins, still. Our last family Franklin 
was a ’28, which we have a duplicate of. Then 
’29,1 had my Model A. My sister got a Model 
A Ford roadster. And we had the ’28 Franklin 
sedan. And then the Depression hit, so we quit 
buying family cars (my father did) until—he 
drove that of Franklin until, I think, ’36, ’cause 
I went from the ’29 Ford to a ’32 Ford, which 
I bought in ’33. And then in ’34, I bought a 

’33 Ford. And then in ’36,1 bought a Lincoln 
Zephyr; I was makin some money. And then 
I bought another Lincoln Zephyr for my 
mother, and that became the family car and 
replaced the Franklin. The ’28 Franklin went 
on to an associate of my father’s. 

That Lincoln Zephyr—that was very 
advanced for its time. It was twelve-cylinder, 
and then the Lincoln Zephyr was just really 
a glorified Ford. But the name, the Lincoln 
part, was just a cash-in on the Lincoln 
prestige; but the Zephyr was more Ford than 
it was Lincoln. But the Ford was a V-s at that 
time, and the Lincoln Zephyr was a Twelve, 
and it would—many Ford parts in it, like 
the transmission was like a Ford V-s and 
the cylinder—I think the pistons were like 
a Ford V-8, except there were twelve of ’em 
instead of eight of’em. And the rear end was 
like a Ford V-8. But because the car was very 
streamlined, it was very fast; it was only 110 
horsepower, but it would go over a hundred 
miles an hour. That’s the one I drove when 
I first came to Reno. I came in my Lincoln 
Zephyr, which I just loved. I drove it over a 
hundred thousand miles. And I hopped it up, 
but not much. 

You got into the insides of these yourself? 

No, not really. I’d doll ’em up like the—I 
had—the Zephyr had special paints, special 
exhaust, and I put a super charger on it. I 
didn’t do that; I went and found a man that 
could put a super charger on a Zephyr and 
had it done. But it didn’t work out very good. 
So then I went back to stock carburetors, but 
I think I had aluminum heads which were 
stock; but I think I did something to them— 
not much—’cause it would go a hundred and 
five, but I think I got a hundred and ten out 
of it. It held the road very good. I drove it to 
Reno many times. 


William F. Harrah 

And actually in those days, when I was so 
young—when I was young—. I remember one 
time I worked in Venice—that’s when I was 
gettin’ ready to open up here; so I was signing 
leases and things, but I was still running my 
business in Venice. And I always drove; I 
didn’t fly It just didn’t enter my mind; you just 
drove if you wanted to go somewhere. But I 
remember I had to come to do something, and 
I had to go back. So anyway, I worked a shift in 
Venice, and then I got in the Zephyr and drove 
up here and signed the paper or whatever I 
had to do, and drove back to Venice, and I 
think maybe worked a shift. But, you know, 
I’m sure you’re familiar with what you can do 
when you’re real—your early twenties, you can 
really move around. And I thought nothin’ of 
it. I didn’t even tell anybody, but somebody 
figured I—’’Well, how did you get—? 

I said, “Well, I drove.” 

“Well, what do you get? But you came 

“Yes, course. I had my business done, so 
I drove back to Venice.” 

But the only disadvantage I had, I drank. 
But I didn’t do too bad on the drinkin’. But I 
just loved driving so much that it wasn’t work, 
it was fun. Drivin’ that Lincoln Zephyr down 
the road ninety miles an hour was heaven. 
And I had so much fun with the cops in those 
days that—and I didn’t like gettin arrested, 
but it was kinda fun. I remember one time up 
by Bridgeport, there’s a real flat road up there 
where it straightens out after you go through 
the curves. Before you get into Bridgeport, 
there’s about, oh, ten miles there, or six miles, 
just almost straightaway. And that’s when the 
California cops used Chevrolets. And it was 
a six-cylinder Chevrolet, and it was a joke 
among us hot-rodders that they would—you 
know—eighty miles an hour was all they’d 
do— the police car. And of course, everything 
we drove was faster. 

So I was cruising along at ninety-five or 
something on my way to Bridgeport, and I 
looked in the rearview mirror, and I could 
see the black and white way back there. So I 
thought, “Well, he’s after me.” It always enters 
your head, outrun ’em, and I thought, “Why, 
that’s dumb.” 

So then I slowed down—I wasn’t sure 
what it was (that was it). They had other 
cars besides Chevies. So I saw the black and 
white; so I slowed down to about ninety, and 
he wasn’t doin’ any good. So then I slowed 
down to about eighty, and he held his own. 
So then I slowed down, I think seventy, and 
he moved up. So finally I slowed way down, 
and here he came, you know. And I was real 
honest with him. He said, “Do you know how 
fast you were goin’?” 

And I says, “Yeah, ninety, till I saw you.” 
I said, “Then I slowed down to seventy.” 

And he said, “Well, why?” 

And I said, “So you could catch me!” 
[Laughing] And it struck him kinda funny; he 
didn’t laugh. I think he even let me go, which 
was very rare in those days for that speed. 

Then my favorite one is the one where 
I got stopped in— it’s between Bishop and 
Mohave. (There’s three or four little towns in 
there; I can think of it, but it’s not important.) 
But anyway, I was goin’ through there, and I 
was goin’ —and usually I watched, and usually 
I didn’t get caught, but somehow I got caught, 
and I was doin’ eighty or ninety. 

So then I was reading, and of course, I read 
the LA Times religiously. And there was an 
article in there on speed, and they mentioned 
this little town and the judge there. And he 
made speeches against speeders and reckless 
driving, and so and so and so and so, and that 
he was gonna start puttin’ people in jail (these 
speeders), that the fines didn’t work, so on and 
so on. And this was where I’d gotten caught. 
So I thought, “Oh brother, I’m in trouble!” 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


And then next day, thered be a piece in the 
paper about this judge, and good for him—he 
was gonna slow down this slaughter, and da da 
da da da—you know how it goes. They still do 
it. So I got worried and worried, and I had to 
go next Tuesday. So I thought, “Well, boy! He’s 
gonna put me in jail!” So I thought, “Well, I’ll 
take”—you know, normal fine’s twenty dollars 
or somethin’, or fifty at the most—I thought, 
“Well, I’ll take a hundred.” Then I worried 
some more, and I thought, “Well, I’ll take two 
hundred.” And I worried some more—’’Well, 
I’ll take five hundred.” I thought, “Well, gee, 
maybe I better take a thousand,” which wasn’t 
too easy, but I—you know—I maneuvered it 
all right. And I think I had it here and here 
and here [gesture like a money belt]. And I 
went up to him, and it was a little justice of the 
peace, and I went in and gave him my ticket. 
And nobody there—just him, you know. 

So he said, “Okay, court’s in session. 
Ninety miles an hour—hey!” And he said, 
“You go ninety?” 

And I said, “Yes sir” [whispers]. 

And he said, “What kind of a car do you 

And I said, “A Lincoln Zephyr.” 

And he said, “Well, do you have a 
Columbia rear axle on it?” That was a two- 
speed rear axle, which, when you put it in the 
high side of it, it would really move along, and 
it would slow the engine down; it was like an 
overdrive. So it was very quiet, and the car 
would go just a little faster— not much, but 
it quieted it way down. So he said, “Do you 
have a Columbia rear end on that?” 

And I said, “Yes, I do.” 

And he grinned, and he said, “I have a 
Ford V-B with one of those on it.” And he said, 
“The darn things—you’re goin’ eighty miles 
an hour ’fore you know it, aren’t you?” 

And I said, “That’s right!” [Whispers] 

And he said, “The least—I’m sorry, son— 
but the least I can do is ten dollars. [Laughs] 
Is that okay?” 

And I said, “Yes sir.” And then I had a 
terrible time tryin to find the ten dollar bill 
without pullin’ out [laughing] a whole roll! 
It’s funny how things work out. 

But then from the Lincoln Zephyr I went 
to a—that was ’36. Then I was in Reno and in 
business, and 1940—(it was really ’39, the new 
models’d come out) and I had some money 
then. And I was in the mood for a new car, 
and I’d course looked ’em all over; I knew 
what everything was going on. And the La 
Salle I liked—had beautiful lines—but it was a 
hundred and thirty-five horsepower. And the 
Packard Super Eight was a hundred and sixty 
horsepower, and it was the most powerful 
car you could buy in the United States; and 
Duesenberg had been out of business then. 
So Packard—there were I think Cadillac was 
a hundred and thirty-five, and Pierce Arrow 
was a hundred and thirty-five or forty; but 
Packard was a hundred and sixty. 

So I went down, and I didn’t really like 
the looks of the Packard, but I admired the 
horsepower. So I went down there one night; 
I’d been out all night, which isn’t as bad as it 
sounds because, you know, I worked till two 
or three, and then we’d do the Golden and 
wherever, and as I say, I drank a lot, but I could 
still maneuver fine. So I was on my way home, 
and I stopped in at—it was Brown brothers 
had the Packard agency here. And—what’s the 
fella’s name?—let’s see— one of the first fellas 
in the gaining control from Reno. Then he 
moved to Vegas. Bob Cahill was the salesman. 
We still kid about that. 

And he come out, and he had on a— 
here I’m dressed real swingin’, and I had a 
girlfriend—and he come out with his blue 
double-breasted suit. And I’ll never forget he 
had a hat on top of his head, a goofy-lookin’ 


William F. Harrah 

hat—real dignified and a tie. And he was 
the salesman. So I went in, I looked at the 
Packard, and I asked a lot of questions. I knew 
all about the car, but I was kinda showin off. 
And he couldn’t answer too many; he was 
one of those fellas that was interested in other 
things, but was between jobs, so he’d become 
a car salesman for a little while. So he didn’t 
know too much about it, but he was a real nice 
guy. So I—”1 want a demonstration.” 

So we went out on South Virginia, and I’m 
rr-rr-rr, and he’s holdin on, lookin’ worried. 
I put the girl in the back seat; he was up front 
with me. And I’m workin’ the overdrive 
and everything, so he said, “Well, are you 
interested?” He was real polite. And he said, 
“Are you interested in this car?” 

And I said [gruff], “Well, I’ll tell you what 
I’ll do!”— big shot. And I guess it was for the 
girl’s benefit too, and also I liked the car. I said, 
“If it’ll go a hundred miles an hour, I ‘ 11 buy 
it.” So South Virginia was just a two-lane road, 
then; you couldn’t do it there. But where you 
could was turn on the road to Virginia City. 
And it gave you a little— you know, a little 
downhill run there, and then where you got 
where it kinda leveled out, you could actually 
tell what a car would do; I’d had a lot of cars 
there. And then, of course, you went into 
an upgrade, but when you hit the very level 
part, and by then you’d had a nice run, so 
that was the ultimate the car would do. And 
I remember it did a hundred and five. 

So he had a big grin on his face, and I 
started sweatin’ ’cause I really couldn’t afford 
the car, and I knew it. And so I drove back, 
and I thought, “Well, I love the car, but I can’t 
afford it.” You know, I got a business, and—. 
So I went in and the Brown brothers—I don’t 
know—I suppose you knew them. 

There were two of them, and one—I can’t 
remember their names—but one of ’em was 
pretty nice. And oh, the boss was really a 

typical car dealer. So I didn’t want to buy the 
car, so they asked what I wanted on it, and I 
told ’em all the accessories, and it was a whole 
bunch of ’em—spotlights and heater and 
overdrive and so on, so on, so on, and so on. 
So they added it all up, and it came to I think 
thirty-three hundred dollars (something like 
that). So they showed it to me—thirty-three 
hundred. I says, “Okay, what do you take?” 

And they said, mmm mmmm—you know 
how car people talk— da da da. So—’’Make 
an offer.” 

So I thought, “Well, I don’t want the car; I 
can’t afford it, so I’ll make an offer they won’t 
take. So I thought, “Three thousand—well, 
they’ll take that.” And I thought “Twenty- 
eight hundred—they might take that.” And 
I thought, “Twenty-six hundred—they won’t 
take that.” I thought, “Well, I’ll go twenty-five 
hundred, and I know they won’t take that.” 

so I’m talkin’ to the brother, not the big 
shot, the other brother. I said, “Twenty-five 

And he looked at me like “Are you crazy?” 
And he—’’Sheesh!” But he said, “I’ll go ask so- 
and-so.” So he went in and asked his brother. 
And he came out, and he says, “You got a 
deal!” [Laughs] It was either twenty-five or 
twenty-six—I forget, but it was way less than 

So then I had to finance it; I didn’t have 
the money. And they could do it there—that 
was okay, and I had the down payment. 
But they—it was really funny—and a story 
about Fernet. Are you familiar with Fernet? 
It’s a bitters that every bar in Reno has, and 
they had in those days. And when you had 
a hangover, a real bad hangover—and that’s 
where I learned it, in Reno—was you go in 
and have a shot of bitters. And it’s Italian, and 
it’s not a—I thought it was a liquor— it isn’t; 
it’s a medicine, a form of medicine. Terrible 
taste. And it will, it’ll settle your stomach 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


when nothing else will. Fernet—Fernet de 
branca [Fernet Branca], I think it is. So I’d 
taken Fernet—not too often, but when I—. 

But anyway, they said, “We’ll draw up. the 
papers for ya. And it was real long; it was in 
quadruple (whatever), the girl’s typin’ away. 
And “Packard Super Eight,” so and so, “and a 
heater, spotlights,” so and so, da da da, special 
this, special that, “seat covers,” so and so, on 
and on, “clock—.” So it was pretty long. So 
then went up, and I went to sign the papers; 
and I really had the shakes (I’d been out all 
night), plus I was nervous. So I went in and 
like this, and I went to sign my name, and I 
went like that [gestures shaky hands, messy 
paper] all over the paper. So I ruined ’em. So 
I—”Oh, I’m sorry,” and I really was. 

And they said, “Oh, no, no, no problem. 
We’ll have the girl do it again.” 

So I went down and I waited, and it took 
her quite a while (she maybe wasn’t too good) 
, got ’em all—tour of ’em lined up with all the 
paper in between, and she’s typin’ away, da da 
da, so it’s fifteen minutes, seems like. So they 
brought ’em out, and so I went over and I did 
it again. And I didn’t want to tell ’em I had 
this awful hangover, plus the shakes—which 
I really was, so I told ’em. I said, “I’m excited.” 
I said, “This is the nicest car I ever owned.” 
And I said, “I’m just excited about ownin’ it.” 
So I said, “I’m awfully sorry.” I said, “Make out 
another set of papers and let me walk around 
the block, and then I can do it, I’m sure; I’ll 

So instead of walkin’ around the block, I 
went across the street, which there’s still a bar 
there; I think it was Charlie’s then. But there 
was a bar there, and Charlie was there, I think; 
and so I went in. I said, “Give me a Fernet.” 
I drank Fernet with a little whiskey. So I had 
two of those; I knew what’d do it and how 
to do it ’cause I’d done it before with a coke 
chaser. And it would just taste awful. But in 

about ten minutes, your stomach would quit 
churning and your shakes’d go away; and that’s 
a fact of life. In fact, I introduced my wife 
to it when she has a terrible upset stomach, 
which doesn’t happen too often, but when she 

So anyway, I went back in and they had 
the papers again. By then they’re thinkin’, 
“What—we’re gonna lose this deal; the guy 
can’t even write.” So all the Brown brothers are 
there and everybody, and the office manager, 
you know—they put ’em down; I had quite 
an audience. And I just went [gesture, steady 
hand, head up] like this. My ’40 Packard. 

So then I got into Packards; I liked 
them very much ’cause they would outrun 
everybody. But they were kinda funny lookin’. 
So then in ’42, they came out with a good- 
lookin’ Packard. I forget the model number, 
but it had the same engine; well, I think it was 
a hundred and sixty-five horsepower. It was 
a Clipper, Packard Clipper. And of course, I 
have one like it in the museum. I bought one 
of those. That’s the one I cracked up on the 
bridge down here and broke my neck. 

Then after that—that was ’42, and I drove 
that through the war; and then ’46,1 bought 
another Packard, which I have one like. That 
was a seven-passenger sedan, and I don’t 
know why I bought a seven-passenger sedan. 
But I wanted a big car— and just me and my 
girlfriend; I wasn’t married or anything. And 
I had this huge, big, black seven-passenger 
Packard. But it would go good too; it wouldn’t 
accelerate as good as the other—and I hopped 
that one up pretty good. And that had an 
overdrive, of course; so that would do a 
hundred and ten with no trouble at all. And 
I remember I bought it, and then I thought, 
“You’re goofy buyin’ a big—” it was black— 
big, black—you know, and here I am still in 
my twenties, I guess— ’46—no, I was thirty- 


William F. Harrah 

five. Thirty-five, yeah. I had this huge car, so 
kinda lookin’ at myself, well, I liked it and all, 
but it’s a dumb car for a single guy. 

But I went to L.A. one time, drove it 
down—a friend of mine, Freddie Vogel, down 
there invited me to the Rose Bowl game. 
I remember by then, I’d acquired License 
Number 8 on it. So this big, black Packard 
with License Number 8, it looked pretty 
important. (I remember it was pretty good 
with the cops.) 

But anyway, we went, Freddie and I and 
our wives or girlfriends had gone out the 
night before. So we slept late. And we got up 
and we were in Hollywood, and like the game 
starts at two o’clock or somethin’ and it’s one- 
thirty, and we have to get out to Pasadena. 
So we started out, and of course, I hate to be 
late, and I was real nervous. But by then the 
Rose Bowl [parade] was over and the football 
crowd was gone, so there was nobody on the 
roads. So we went sailin’ out there, and we got 
there and I think the game had just started. 

But here’s this huge parking lot and the 
stadium’s full of people, and we drove in, and 
of course, there were parking attendants and 
police. And all the places are taken, just, you 
know, I thought, “Where the hell am I gonna 
park?” Just full. But being courteous, I said, 
“Let me drive you up to the gate.” We had good 
tickets right near the fifty-yard line, so I drove 
’em right up there. And there were a whole 
bunch of limos parked there—Cadillacs 
and Packards and chauffeur-driven. So as I 
drove up in this big, black Packard with a 
License Number 8, they saw me coming. And 
I dropped the friends of f; so when I pulled 
around, they pulled me right over [gesture] 
[laughs] with the other limos, just— I didn’t 
ask; they just pulled me in there. So I got out 
just like I—sometimes I can act pretty good. 
So I backed it in there just like I was meant to 
park there, and I got out and kinda halfway 

saluted “thank-you” [laughing], went into 
the game. And of course, they’re goin’ like 
that [chin drops]— the chauffeur’s goin with 
the other people! But I remember— and hey, 
doesn’t it pay to have a low number and a big, 
black car (or it was dark blue)! That was my 
last Packard. 

By then I’d started goin to Idaho. Well, I 
had another Packard that I’d bought, a used 
Packard, that I still have. That was a 1938 
twelve-cylinder, convertible coupe that I got 
about 1940. That was my “extra” car. I drove 
it around Reno quite a bit. And I drove it 
to Idaho. That was a hundred and seventy- 
five—that was a twelve cylinder; they quit 
building that in ’39. So when I started buyin 
new Packards, the twelve was gone, and the 
one-sixty was the hottest car you could buy. 
This ’38 convertible coupe was a beautiful car, 
and I still have it; it’s in the museum. And I 
bought that from George Carr. He was a car 
dealer. But that was his personal car. And I 
bought from him; then he tried to buy it back, 
I remember, ’cause it was such a neat car. It had 
been owned originally here by Judge (can’t 
remember his name). He was a retired judge 
from the east. He used to play Bingo with us 
a little bit. But anyway, no matter. 

Then when I started goin to Idaho, I drove 
the Packard convertible coupe first time, but it 
was not practical for that. Then I had the limo, 
which was practical—it had a lot of room, 
but it just didn’t fit in Stanley, Idaho, this big, 
seven-passenger limousine. 

So then my next car was a ’49 Mercury, 
which was a real pretty car. It had a wooden—a 
station wagon. And I hopped it up, put 
everything on it. I had dual exhaust and 
overdrive and high compression heads, 
Offenhauser heads, and special carburetors. 
But it was very disappointing. I remember 
it was a hundred and ten horsepower, but it 
was kinda balky. And I had a terrible time 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


gettin’ a hundred miles an hour; I don’t think 
it would really do a hundred. So I—worried 
me a lot, too, that, you know, I was used to 
havin’ a car that would do a hundred easy, and 
this Mercury, you just had to push your foot 
through the floor, and it would barely do it. 
So I thought, “What—.” By then the Chrysler 
V-B had come out with the hemispherical 
heads. And up till then, Cadillac had gone to 
a hundred and sixty horsepower, which was 
the hottest car you could buy, and Packard was 
a hundred and sixty. And this hemi Chrysler 
came out, and it was a hundred and eighty 
horsepower. And it was way detuned; it was 
really more horsepower than that. So it was 
a wonderful engine. And it was the hit of the 
year, the overheads, the Chrysler hemi. In fact, 
they still use ’em in dragsters—the Chrysler 
hemi. It’s a wonderful engine. 

So I thought, “Gee whiz, I’ll put a Chrysler 
hemi in my Mercury.” So I had a friend of 
mine in Hollywood do it. And he put it in, 
and he wasn’t too good a workman. He was a 
friend of mine, and he hopped up a lotta hot 
dragsters and things, but he did sloppy work. 
He would get the engine in, but he would do 
it; and he’d cut here and he’d cut there, and 
it wasn’t (as we call) sanitary; it was a bum 
job. So he got the engine in, and it would go 
wonderful—a hundred and thirty, somethin’ 
like that. But the frame kinda bent and broke, 
and we fixed this and we fixed that, and it was 
just a lot of trouble, it would go good, but it 
was just bad news. 

And I’ll never forget, a friend of mine, a 
car fella, Elliot Wiener (for what it’s worth, 
it really doesn’t matter— the name) . But he 
had some cars, and I was kinda promotin’ 
him to get ’em. So he invited me to dinner at 
his house. And he lived in Pacific Palisades; 
he had a very wonderful house and nice wife 
and wonderful bunch of cars. And he had 
plenty of money. The only reason he talked 

about sellin ’em (and we’ve acquired quite a 
few from him) was he just was getting out of 
it and doing less and less. 

But anyway, I was having dinner with him, 
and part of the conversation i made at dinner, 
I can still remember it. He said, “What do you 
drive?” Oh, I’d driven up in a Mercury. And I 
showed him the engine. So he’s at dinner; he 
said, “How do you like that car?” 

And I said, “Well, it’s wonderful. It’ll go [a] 
zillion miles an hour. But,” I said, “when Max 
put the engine in, why, he cut the frame, and 
now I have trouble fixin’ this because it’s just 
bad news.” And I says, “I don’t know what to 
do!” I said, “Goin to Idaho all the time, I gotta 
have a station wagon; it’s the only way to go 
up there. But,” I said, “I also have to go fast.” 
I said, “I just don’t know what I’ in gonna do.” 

And Elliot, who was a real straight-to-it 
fella, he said, “Why don’t you buy a Chrysler 
station wagon?” 

And believe it or not, the idea’d never 
entered my mind. Chrysler was building a 
very beautiful station wagon with a hemi 
engine. And I just went like that—”So! Thank 



So I came to Reno and immediately bought, 
I remember it was a ’52 Chrysler wagon, which 
I just loved. And I hopped it up—just a little. I 
put dual carburetors on it; I put dual exhaust 
and dual carburetors, and I believe it would go 
close to a hundred and thirty miles an hour. I 
remember I used to cruise it at about ninety, 
just beautifully, and it got good gas mileage 
at that speed. That was when I was on the 
board of directors of the Horseless Carriage 
Club—the national Horseless Carriage Club, 
whose headquarters [are] in L.A. And they 
had a monthly meeting, and I was on for three 
years. I attended every meeting in L.A., and I 
drove down every meeting [chuckles]. So that’s 
thirty-six trips to L.A., and most of it was in 
the Chrysler wagon which I just loved. 


William F. Harrah 

And in ’54 I bought another Chrysler 
wagon, another Chrysler wagon which 
wasn’t as good, it was practically the same 
car, but I made a mistake. The ’52 had two 
two-barrel carburetors, which was all the 
carburetion the car needed. When I got the 
’54,1 thought, “Well, I’ll put more on.” There’s 
where I learned a lesson about carburetion. 
So I put two four-barrels on. And one four- 
barrel or two two-barrels would’ve done fine, 
but I had two four-barrels, so I had too much 
carburetion. And too much carburetion, the 
car won’t run as good as it will with the proper 
amount or with even a little. So the ’54 was a 
little disappointment, i liked it, but it wasn’t 
as good as the ’52. 

So then in ’55, Chrysler came out with a 
300. That was a high performance coupe; it 
would do a hundred and thirty miles an hour. 
So I bought one of those. And that was when 
we went to the take, so it just worked out so 
timely ’cause I had to run up there a lot. In my 
Chrysler 300 I would really get up there and 
back in a hurry. 

And I have a favorite story there, as there 
was no speed limit between Carson and Reno, 
and of course, I drove pretty fast. And no 
one bothered me, while there was no speed 
limit. But I remember one time, I—around 
about halfway, where those brothers have 
that restaurant there—Pagnis, I was cornin’ 
down there at a hundred and thirty, and I 
think it is—well, it was the edge of Washoe 
County because this deputy picked me up. 

I saw him coming, and whatever he was 
driving, he couldn’t catch me, of course. So 
I just kept going; there was no speed limit, 
and I was driving all right. I was drivin’ good; 
I wasn’t drunk or anything. So I drove on 
into Reno. And when I hit the—he was still 
coming, chasing me, with his red light and 
everything. And I didn’t stop because I wasn’t 
doin’ anything illegal. But then I got to the 

first speed zone, and I don’t know—forty-five 
or fifty-five (whatever it was)—and I slowed 
down to the forty-five. And—so then he 
caught me, and he pulled me over. So what 
had I done? Nothing. 

But he came out—he was a young fella and 
he was hot-tempered. He was red in the face, 
and he came over [waving arms, growling], 
“Are you—?” And I just listened. And, “You 

I said, “There’s no speed—.” 

“Oh, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, reckless driver!” 

I said, “I—oh, I wasn’t a reckless driver. 
I only passed one car from the time I saw 
you.” And he was doin’ eighty, so I said, “I 
never pass a car over ten miles differential. 
So I passed him at ninety; then I speeded up 
again to a hundred and thirty. Don’t.” 

He said [gruffly], “You follow me! And so 
he took me in to the sheriff’s office. So I went 
in, and got in front of the sheriff’s office; and 
he got me out of the—’’Come on “ you 

know—he was almost rude. But I’ve learned, 
fortunately, that those kind of people, you just 
do what you’re told, you know. So I went in. 
He says [gruffly], “Sit there.” So I sat down, 
and he went in to the sheriff, who was Bud 
Young, who, of course, I knew—and closed 
the door. “Bu bu bu bu bu.” And I can hear and 
I can see through the glass kinda. “Bu bu bu 
bu yah.” And so it’s ten minutes or something. 

So finally, Bud came out, and he said, “Hi, 

And I said, “Hi, Bud.” And we shook 

And Bud—he didn’t say, “I’m sorry 
about this,” but he said, “Hope it wasn’t too 
inconvenient for you. Go ahead” [laughs]. 
And now I went, and the guy’s just sittin there 
like this [tense, shaking], you know. And he 
actually—I think he quit his job the next week 
because he was one of those go-by-the-book 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


guys, you know. And if the sheriff is gonna 
let people go, well, what the hell the sense 
of tryin to enforce the law, so—. Anyway, I 
walked out. 

Bud was so neat. I remember whenever 
he’d serve you with a paper, he’d be so 

That was the ’55 Chrysler 300. Then is 
’56 they come out with a Chrysler 300-B, and 
the 300 was the horsepower. That was why it 
was called the 300. And the 300-B was three 
hundred and forty horsepower. And 300-C, 
which I got the next year, was three hundred 
and seventy-five horsepower. It was the same 
car, just about, cept it had dual headlights. 
But they were the hottest car on the road; 
they would go a hundred and thirty miles an 
hour. The hemi was very expensive to make 
because of the design. And the engines like 
Cadillac was using, and Ford by their Lincoln, 
they were overhead valve, too, but they weren’t 
hemis, so they were cheaper. So all us Chrysler 
guys really loved the hemi. Then in ’59, they 
abandoned the hemi and came out—and 
they had another name for it, and it sounded 
pretty good (it was a fancy name). But it was 
the same design—they got away from the 
hemi head because of costs and went to this 
other design, which was just another engine. 
And they called it three hundred and some 
horsepower, but it really wasn’t. That was— 
they built the 300 through each, I think. See, I 
went through D, and then there was a E, F, C, 
H; and I think that was the last, ’cause people 
finally caught on it. 

I was real interested in speed, of course, 
and performance, and I’d been reading about 
Ferrari over the years. But there were real— 
see, a Chrysler 300 cost about five thousand 
dollars. I’d been readin’! about Ferrari and 
how they performed; they were a hundred 
and forty to a hundred and fifty miles an 
hour. But they were eighteen thousand 

and twenty-three thousand and all sorts of 
goofy numbers—so just unthinkable. Then 
Ferrari started advertising a little bit in the 
automotive newspapers and magazines. And 
there was a dealer in L.A., in Hollywood. 
What was the name of it?—huh. That’s kind 
of important; I’ll get that. 

So I went down there, and I went by the 
agency just to look at the car. I had no thought 
of buying one, but I was very tempted. So I 
went in and I looked at ’em; they had several 
there. And it was a beautiful car. And Richie 
Ginther, who is a famous race car driver, and 
was at that time, was the sales manager. He 
was the whole sales force, too. But he asked 
me—he came up very polite and asked me if 
I wanted a demonstration. And I said, “Yes.” 

So we went out, and he took me up on 
Mulholland Drive in Hollywood. And I was 
very familiar with Mulholland Drive because 
I was raised there, and I knew what you could 
do on Mulholland Drive in a ’26 Chevy or a 
’29 Ford or a ’36 Lincoln. I’d been all over it, 
and I knew just what you could do. And he 
took me in this Ferrari over the same road 
at double the speeds I’d ever ridden. And 
of course, he was a super driver; he was a 
Grand Prix driver. But that plus the car was 
just unbelievable. And he let me drive it, 
course, and it handled beautifully, and the 
performance and acceleration and just— I’d 
never driven a car like that. The Chrysler 
300s—it made them feel like an old truck or 
something. And Chrysler barely met it. 

So we went back to the agency, and I was 
really tempted. And I said, “How much is it?” 
And it was twelve thousand, five hundred 
dollars. And they only had—they came in 
steel and aluminum (the Berlinetta), which I 
knew. And this one I’d been driving was—and 
it was red [chuckles], but it was aluminum, 
and it was the only one they had. And it 
came out in the conversation either before 


William F. Harrah 

or after I asked the price, it was the only one 
they had and it would be a little while before 
they’d get some more. And of course, the 
aluminum was a little lighter than the steel, 
which meant a little better performance, 
although they’d still go to a hundred and 
forty But I was— you know, I—well, it was 
the only one and it would—had chrome wire 
wheels. So twelve thousand five hundred. So 
I said, “Okay.” And I had the money, all right, 
and I wrote him out a check, but I remember 
saying to myself like when I did it or soon 
afterwards, you know—it’s almost like when 
you wake up with a terrible hangover, you 
think, “What a damn fool I was!” And “God, 
I’m payin’ twelve thousand five hundred 
for—.” And today, let’s see ’58, that would be 
like—well, it’d be like payin’ a hundred and 
fifty thousand today, or something— just, 
you know, somethin’ you don’t think about, 
but you go ahead and do it. And you look at 
yourself in the mirror, and you think, “God, 
do I have control of myself?” 

Then I drove it back. And there’s another 
funny story. And it’s just wonderful—I still 
have the car. I got my next Ferrari; I sold the 
first one, but then later I chased it down and 
bought it back, and it’s a wonderful car today. 
But it was so funny, the headlight switch, you 
pull it out and you turn it—in other words, 
you can’t pull it out and the headlights go on; 
you have to pull it out and turn it and pull it 
out. And that’s the headlights. And the reason 
for that is so that your knee can’t hit it and 
bump it and turn ’em out, because you have 
to turn it and push it, which is real good. But 
also, in doing that, I think you turn it one 
more notch which turns the taillights on, 
which is dumb—the taillights should come 
on with the headlights. But for some reason 
they do a lot of things like that in European 
cars, especially Italian, that don’t make sense, 
but that’s the way it’s done. 

So I turned on the lights, and I looked 
and the taillights weren’t on, and I couldn’t 
figure out how to turn them on. And we’re 
driving back to Reno; I was with [Edward A.] 
Bud Catlett, I remember. We just started out 
for Reno, and we had dinner or something, 
and then we turned the lights on and noticed 
the taillights weren’t on. And we tried and 
couldn’t figure out how to turn ’em on. So we 
just figured they were burned out. So we’re 
going, and it’s dusk (it wasn’t dark, but it 
was dusk); but we had our headlights on— 
everyone had their headlights on. And we’re 
cruising a hundred and thirty or something, 
and real happy—not much traffic—and the 
car’s just running like a dream, you know, and 
we’re “Oh, what a wonderful—oh!” and “Oh!” 
And it’s just happy as it can be, you know, at 
a hundred— cause it wasn’t nearly flat-out. 
And just fun. And so we came up and here’s 
a police car up ahead with his lights flashin’, 
and he’s out in the middle of the road and he 
pulled over. So he pulled us over [gesture], 
and I rolled down my window, and I said, 
“What do you want?” 

And he said, “Well, there’s a fella behind 
ya—.” And this other police car had been 
followin’ us, but he couldn’t catch us. So he 
came up, so I thought, “Oh, brother,” and the 
other cop had told me that; he said, “There’s 
somebody followin’ you, but he couldn’t catch 
you, so he called ahead.” And I thought ooh—. 

So this fella showed up—a policeman— 
with his red light and all, and he got out and 
came over, and I thought, “I’m in trouble.” 

And he said, “I’ve been tryin’ to catch you 
for fifteen miles. 

And I said, “Well, uhh—. And there was 
speed limit in California. I said, “Well, uhh—.” 

And he said, “Oh, I wasn’t concerned 
about your speed.” He said, “You’re drivin’ 
a Ferrari.” He said, “That’s a wonderful car. 
So I’m not concerned about that. But,” he 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


said, “your taillights are out, and I was tryin 
to catch you to tell you your taillights—” 

So then we asked him, well, how to turn 
’em on, or they’re out. And so two cops and 
me and Bud, we kept playin’ with it until 
we turned it one more notch and pulled 
it, and then the taillights went on. So then 
everybody’s happy, and away we went. 
See, like a lot of cops do—they’ll give you 
a ticket— most of ’em—but a lot of ’em do 
appreciate a real quality car, you know. Fact, 
more than once I’ve done that, and especially 
with the antiques; but with modern sports 
cars, have a cop pull me over, and I think, 
“What the hell did I do?” And he’ll come up 
and say, “Excuse me, sir, I—could I look at 
the engine,” you know. “I hope you’re not in 
a hurry, but I just—I’ve never—” you know. 
And you lift the hood, and they admire it; and 
then they say, “Thank you very much,” and go 

So that’s up to the Ferraris. And I’ve had 
Ferraris ever since, with a mixture. Always 
had a station wagon because of going to 
Idaho. I got my first Jeep in ’64, which is the 
ideal car for that. Prior to that, of course, I 
had the Chryslers. And I had the Jeep wagon 
ever since, at least one. And then, of course, I 
acquired the dealership a couple of years ago, 
which was—I’d always wanted a dealership; 
but it was just one of those things that came 
along, and it was for sale, surprisingly. I 
bought it, and it’s been very successful. And 
it’s fun, too. I love bein’ a Jeep dealer, and 
they go so good, and there’s money in ’em; 
and we’re Number Two in the country. We 
were Number One one year; we worked extra 
hard. But then this fella on the east coast that 
has three dealerships that he runs as one, 
so no way we can compete with that. So we 
beat him one year, but we kinda had to work 
harder than we wanted to work. We had to 

make deals we didn’t want to work, so it’s not 
worth it. 

Then, getting back to Ferrari. Soon after 
I got my Ferrari, the dealership became 
available in Reno. I’d already had the Rolls 
dealership, which—that’s another story—let 
me go into Rolls: I’d always admired Rolls 
Royces, the limousine. And I bought a Rolls 
Royce for my wife which she liked very 
much, and I got to likin’ it. I thought, it was 
kind of a, oh, old man’s car or something. 
But I discovered with a Rolls Royce V-B 
that came out in 1960—I think we bought a 
’61 Rolls Royce—I bought one for her, and 
we drove it to Arizona and around, and it 
was hundred and fifteen-mile-an-hour car, 
but you could cruise it at ninety with no 
trouble. And I remember one time we were 
in Phoenix, and we drove—we’re coming 
back to Reno; we’d driven down, stayed a 
few days. So we drove to Las Vegas, which 
was three hundred and some miles, I believe. 
It was quite a ways, and we planned to stop 
in Vegas. When we got to Vegas, we were 
feeling just wonderful. And I was still young, 
but no kid. So I told my wife, I said, “Well, 
gee, I feel good. Why don’t we go on a ways. 
So we’ll go to Tonopah or something.” So 
we got to Tonopah, and we still felt—I felt 
wonderful. So I drove to Reno, and I still 
felt—. That was a thing in Rolls that I never 
experienced before. And my Ferraris, they 
would go fast and all, and ray Chryslers, 
but they were noisy, and there was—it 
would wear on you. You didn’t realize it was 
wearing. But the Rolls Royce with its silence, 
and its easy handling, and all that, you could 
just—it was so easy to drive that you could 
put in more. But I remember this time, we 
drove to Reno when we’d only planned to 
go to Vegas. And we arrived in Reno, and I 
think it was about five-thirty at night. And 
we felt real good, and I said, “Well, hey, you 


William F. Harrah 

want to see the show at the Lake?” cause it 
was a show we hadn’t seen. 

So “Yeah, why not?” So we went in the 
house, changed our clothes, and drove to the 
Lake, saw the show, and drove back to Reno. 
And when I got back to Reno at eleven o’clock 
at night, I just felt wonderful. And that was 
my first introduction to the reason why a Rolls 
Royce, besides the radiator and all that sort of 
thing that it does, it is so well designed that 
it’s very restful to drive. 

So soon after that, I don’t know if I 
approached them or they approached me—I 
think it was my idea, ’cause I wanted to 
buy a Rolls limo, Phantom Five (which is 
a wonderful car), and I went down to Kjell 
Qvale, who was the west coast distributor 
for Rolls Royce—he still is. So I think it was 
thirty thousand dollars at the time. And I 
had a demonstration, and I liked the car, and 
I went up to his office and—no salesman; 
just he and I. And I said, “What’ll you take 
for it?” or something like that. I didn’t put it 
that crudely. And it was a shock to him ’cause 
apparently he hadn’t discounted any Rolls, or 
at least he said he hadn’t. 

And he said, “The price is thirty thousand 

And I—you know, we got into some 
words, and I said, “Well, you know, I—every 
car I buy I get a discount.” 

And he said, “Well, you don’t on a Rolls 

And I said, “Not even a thousand dollars?” 
I can’t remember if I got the thousand or not; 
I kinda don’t think I did, ’cause I remember it 
was very unhappy. 

In the meantime, there’d been a hint of 
some kind from somebody (I don’t know if 
it’s from Kjell or not) that they’d like to have 
a Rolls Royce dealership in Reno. And I 
really didn’t want to go into the car business. 
I liked cars, and I had many opportunities 

before to get into it, like the Chrysler and 
the Packard and all that. And I thought, 
“Oh, poohy,” ’cause I did value my time, and 
I valued my time in Idaho, and I didn’t have 
too many executives then; it was kinda me 
doin’ most of it. So, I just thought, “Well, if I 
have a car agency, then that’ll take my time.” 
And I would’a had a manager, but I knew I’d 
be right in the middle of it; so I turned down 
many. But I think I took the Rolls. And either 
they offered it to me, or they hinted at it. Or 
maybe it even came from Rolls Royce because 
I’d bought—I bought three in London, which 
made a big hit. 

But anyway, I got the dealership for Reno 
and for Rolls Royce, which was a fun thing 
because the company bought quite a few 
Rolls limos. And they would go, so that made 
money for the company. And I bought them, 
Harrah’s could buy ’em as cheap as they could 
otherwise, so it was a pretty good deal. And 
my wife, who liked Rolls Royces, she got a 
new Rolls Royce every once in a while. So it 
was a real nice situation. 

But then the Ferrari worked rather 
similar. I was offered that, and also as a 
good customer, ’cause I’d bought another 
Ferrari in the meantime—plus the Ferrari 
distributorship had changed hands, so they 
were looking for dealers. So I took on the 
Ferrari dealership, which didn’t work too 
good at first because of politics. The owner 
of the Ferrari distributorship had started— 
it’s a success story. His name was John Von 
Neumann, and he’d started with a little MG, 
one MG, in Hollywood. And I think he’d 
sold MGs and made a little money. And then 
Volkswagen came along. He was one of the 
first Volkswagen dealers, and that’s when 
the “Bug” came. And he was an excellent 
dealer, and he acquired the distributorship 
for southern California. And any Volkswagen 
dealership was almost guaranteed to make 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


you a million dollars when they were hot, 
and a distributorship had made him a 
multimillionaire, and he was quite a young 
man. So hed acquired Ferrari as a fun thing, 
as he loved sports cars. And he was a great 
driver. I’ve seen him drive in races, and he 
was some—you see a lot of celebrity drivers, 
but he was a true driver. He could really drive, 
Johnny Von Neumann. 

But he was married, and they divorced. 
In the divorce, she acquired the Ferrari 
distributorship, which was real bad news 
because she didn’t like the car, and she didn’t 
like—. And I had a man that I’d appointed 
my manager, and she didn’t like him because 
he had gone with her daughter or something. 
And she wanted me to fire him, and I wouldn’t 
fire him because of that. And because I 
wouldn’t fire him, she wouldn’t give me any 
cars. And actually no cars, not—. And I’m a 
dealer, and she wouldn’t give me any Ferraris. 
So I went to the factory about it. You know, I 
hinted; I said I couldn’t believe it was gonna 
really happen. And then finally I went to the 
factory, and they couldn’t believe it. And they 
said, “Well, she has to give you cars.” 

And I said, “Well, she hasn’t.” And this 
went on for about a year. And here I’m a 
Ferrari dealer, and I didn’t have any cars. So 
finally, the Ferrari factory started selling me 
cars direct, which is unheard-of when there’s 
a distributor. But they would sell her cars as a 
distributor, and then they’d sell them to me as 
a dealer at the dealer’s costs, which was fine. 

Then I tried to buy the distributorship. 
And she wouldn’t talk to me; she wouldn’t, 
this-and-that. And I was very active as a 
Ferrari dealer. So then later, the factory 
bought her out ’cause she was giving such 
terrible—not only me, but she was selling 
Ferraris to her friends, and if you weren’t her 
friend you couldn’t get one, and just—she 
was really messin’ it up. And the dealers were 

quitting right and left, and it was total disaster. 
So Ferrari revoked her distributorship, and I 
think they paid her for it to get out ’cause she 
was a mean woman. So it was there, and they 
ran it for a while. And I was a dealer under 
them, and it was much better. 

So then one day, just out of a clear blue 
sky, they said, “Would you like to be the 

And I said, “Well, of course. I’d love to be 
the distributor. I could do a good job.” 

And they said, “Okay. When do you want 
to start?” 

And then so I said, so-and-so. And I 
thought, “Well, I wonder what they want for 
it.” So I thought, “Well, they’ll tell me.” So I 
said, “Okay, sure, fine.” So we went ahead, and 
to this day they haven’t asked me anything! 
[Chuckling] I don’t think they’re going to; 
it’s been ten years now, I guess. And we have 
I think twenty dealers now all over—we have 
west of the Mississippi, which is real nice. 

There are the three agencies—well, I’ll 
repeat that. One is American Motors and Jeep; 
and the other is Rolls Royce, BMW, Aston 
Martin, Peugeot, Fiat, and Ferrari. And the 
other agency is Mercedes Benz and Datsun. 
And there’s one in Ketchum, Idaho which is 
Jeep and American Motors and Volkswagen, 
Porsche, and— (what’s that other car? It’s on 
the tip of my tongue. It’ll come. It’s another 
German car). That tells the cars; that’s enough 
of that. 

That’s more the dealer end. Well, today, 
I drive Ferraris and Jeeps and whatever. I 
believe in a car, the ideal car for the purpose, 
like a sports car—two people to go from 
here to the Lake in nice weather, why, there’s 
nothing better than a Ferrari sports car. But 
then to take six people up to the Lake or 
six guests, why, there’s nothing like a Rolls 
limousine or a Cadillac (there’s a lot of nice 
limos; we have Lincolns, Cadillacs, and Rolls 


William F. Harrah 

Royces) with a chauffeur—that’s the way to 
do that. And then, like, say, when there’s four 
of you—doesn’t work in a Ferrari; they have 
a little back seat, some of ’em, but it’s just too 

So the ideal car in my opinion today is 
the Mercedes, as a sedan. The Mercedes has 
always been a quality car and a pretty good 
performance car, not a real hot one. They 
came out with a sports car in ’55, a gull-wing, 
which was a hundred and thirty-mile-an-hour 
car (I remember that). And I drove one; in 
fact, a doctor here in Reno had one, and he 
let me drive it. And I thought, “Wow!” And 
it really handled nicely. But it was only two- 
passenger, and I was into bigger cars then; plus 
it was—it went very well, but it didn’t pull your 
head off like a Ferrari. But I thought about it, 
thought about it. Then in ’68,1 believe, they 
had—. Well, prior to that, Mercedes came out 
with a big limo and a big sedan and a big limo 
with a 6.3 engine in it (that’s liters) , which 
was two hundred and fifty-some horsepower, 
and it was a real hot performer. Well, the 
limo would go (we had one for a while) —it 
would do about a hundred and twenty. And 
the sedan would do about a hundred and 
twenty-five, a hundred and thirty, well maybe 
a hundred and twenty-five. I had one of those, 
and it was a very nice car. I liked it, but it was 
not a big thing. 

Then in ’68,1 believe, they had the smaller 
one, the 450 and the 280, which they have 
today. And it was big news—they put the 6.3 
engine in the 450 chassis, limo, so it became 
the hottest sedan in the world overnight. A 
regular Mercedes sedan would do a hundred 
and thirty-five miles an hour, and wonderful 
acceleration, and so I bought one of those, a 
6.3. And I just loved that, as a sedan. And I 
drove it until—what happened? Oh. I was a 
little worried (’cause I was talkin’ it up, too), 
and I was a Rolls dealer (and there is some 

competition), and I thought “Well, here am 
I drivin’ a Mercedes, sellin Rolls, and drivin’ 
a Mercedes.” I said, “That isn’t right”—to 
myself, I said that. So I sold it, and people 
said, “Well, why didn’t you like the 6.3?” 

And I said, “I love it, but I shouldn’t be 
drivin’ a Mercedes.” And I did; I went back to 
Rolls Royces—the sedan. And then we kept 
one or two in the company, but of course, 
nothing wrong with that because we had 
all kinds of cars. But my personal car was 
a Rolls Royce or a Ferrari. But then, a year 
or so ago we had a chance to acquire the 
Mercedes dealership here, which we did, and 
then I could drive a—maybe that’s the reason 
I bought it! [Chuckles] Now I can drive a 
Mercedes without hangin’ my head. And the 
6.3, they quit making, and they got to be a 
collector’s item almost. And everybody—”Oh, 
gee whiz, why—” and you know—. They went 
back to 4.5 (that’s liters; that’s the size of the 
engine) , and the performance is in—you 
know—proportion to that. And then last year, 
much to our pleasure, with everything going 
the other way and governmental controls and 
speed limits and everything, they came out 
with a 6.9 Mercedes. And that’s even more 
horsepower and better performance. And 
of course, I have one of those. So that’s my 
favorite sedan without any doubt. That will 
go a hundred and forty miles an hour today, 
and handles just beautifully, and quiet, and 
just super. 

What is it about the speed ? 

Oh, it’s fun to go fast, plus it’s fun to beat 
somebody, plus speed is time, you know? I’ll 
argue with anybody about that. If you can 
get Point A to Point B in an hour, or you can 
do it in a half an hour, you’ve just picked 
up thirty minutes of your life, without any 
doubt. And anybody who wants to argue 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


against that—’’Yeah,” and blah, blah, a lot 
of arguments, but there are ways of going a 
hundred and thirty miles an hour very safely 
And I pride myself on that; every car I ever 
drove had excellent tires and excellent shock 
absorbers and excellent brakes and a clean 
windshield and just—. Also I was sittin’ there 
watchin’ the road. I wasn’t [with] my ear in 
the radio, or I wasn’t lookin’ at the ranch over 
there; I was looking like that [straight ahead]. 
In fact, when I want to look even today—of 
course, I don’t drive fifty-five, but I don’t drive 
a hundred. But I want to see what things are 
goin’ on in Washoe Valley, I’ll let somebody 
else drive because I cannot drive and look at 
the scenery to amount to anything. And it’s 
so much fun; I only do it a couple of times 
a year. And when I do it, I see so many new 
things, and new houses, and new businesses 
[chuckles], and—. ’cause if they’re not right 
there, I just—which is good; that’s the way 
you should drive. 

Did you ever think about becoming a race 
driver? Or did you try it? 

Oh, I drove up north of town one time. I 
had a Jaguar; I left that out. I had an XK120. 
That was my first sports car. I bought that in 
’48. See, that was a hundred and twenty miles 
an hour, only they would do a hundred and 
thirty. That was XK120. XK was the model, 
and 120 was the top speed. It was a hundred 
and sixty horsepower, the Jaguar. Came out in 
48, and it was unheard-of ’cause they did do 
a hundred and thirty. That’s when a hundred 
miles an hour was very fast. They took this 
Jaguar, and they couldn’t do it in England, 
but they took it to the Continent—Belgium 
or somewhere—on a regular speed run there. 
And it was a stock Jaguar, and they made a 
two-way run, and they did a hundred and 
thirty miles an hour both ways. Jaguars have 

always been low priced for what you got, so 
it was around five thousand dollars. It was a 
hundred and thirty-mile-an-hour car. And 
I’d read about it in England. And there was 
a Jaguar dealer in L.A., and I guess that’s 
when I was on the Horseless Carriage Club. 
But anyway, in Hollywood, and I was there 
and I went in, and it was called International 
Motors, which is the same name we use here. 
And I forget the owner’s name, but I went in 
to him. And I said, “I want to buy an XK120,” 
and he looked surprised, ’cause I guess not too 
many people knew about ’em or something. 

He said, “Well, yeah, okay.” And I paid 
him, either a big down payment, or I paid him 
the full price ’cause I wanted it. And that was 
when it was, say like September or October 
that all this had come out or was coming out. 
And I ordered the car, and I expected maybe 
spring delivery ’cause there were none in the 
country yet. 

So then it was an overnight success and 
exciting and all the papers and the XK120— 
wow! And all the stars are ordering them. 
So I think I made a deposit or something, 
but—or paid for it—but anyway, I was sure 
that I’d paid my money, so I couldn’t get shut 
out. I was a little suspicious ’cause I wasn’t 
a celebrity. Then I kept real close track of 
what ones were coming in the country and 
International Motors. And I think—and I 
couldn’t prove it—but I think I had a feeling 
there of uneasiness, like maybe I might 
get shut out because I’d call, and course, i 
called twice a week, and well, it was kinda 
indefinite, and I felt like I was maybe gettin 
the runaround. So I went down and really got 
down to the boss, and you know, polite, but, 
you know, “When is my car coming in?” 

And “Well, we don’t know.” 

I said, “Well, gimme what you have 
because, as you know, I live in Reno, and it’ll 
mean a special trip. And I want to be here 


William F. Harrah 

when it gets here, and I want to take delivery 
here, and I want a day or two in advance. 
So please let me know.” And I really kept 
houndin’ him. 

So pretty soon (and maybe it was in my 
imagination; maybe it was a straight deal all 
the way) I got a date—okay. And it was a little 
earlier than I expected, and I thought, “Oh 
wow, this is neat.” So I went down, and I was 
there a day ahead of time; and I went snoopin’ 
around, and by then I knew the guys in the 
shop and everybody. And they said, “Yes, we 
have three coming in tomorrow, and one of 
em’s yours.” 

I said, “Oh boy, that’s what I wanted to 
hear.” And I said, “Who are the other two for?” 

And he said, “Humphrey Bogart and Gary 
Cooper.” Huh! [Chuckles.] 

And I thought, “Wow, I’m a celebrity!” 

So I went down the next day, and they 
were there—Humphrey Bogart and Gary 
Cooper, and I. And I think there were pictures 
and all, although it wasn’t a big thing. But I 
remember we all took delivery. They didn’t 
line us up or anything, but just mine’s over 
here and Gary’s is over there and Humphrey’s 
is over there. And we weren’t—you know— 
we were “Hello, how are ya?” and “Gee, we’re 
lucky to get these cars,” and that’s all we had 
to say because Gary was interested in his 
car, and Humphrey was interested—and I’m 
interested in mine. So we just—’’Hello,” “Nice 
to meet you,” go, you know. That was it, but I 
still felt like a celebrity, I can remember that. 
And I even think I drove it home that night. 
And it would go a hundred and thirty miles 
an hour, which was—see, that’s in ’48, so that’s 
before the Chrysler 300s. And the Packards 
were a hundred and something—a hundred 
and five or so. So a hundred and thirty was 
very fast. 

But I think that’s why I like speed. Plus 
it’s—you know, you—superiority. My car’ll 

go a hundred and fifty, and yours’ll only go a 
hundred and forty—you know, it’s that kind 

It is kinda technical; I understand it, but 
I can’t describe it very good. 

Some Car Builders: Memory Sketches 

How about some of the other people who have 
been in Reno and involved in cars; did you and 
Mr. Cord, for example, get to be friendly? 

No, I met him a couple of times, that’s 
all. I think I met him three times. And I 
communicated with him or the Cord family. 
We have the special Cord that he had built 
that we found in Beverly Hills and discovered 
he’d owned it. Then we asked him, and he 
told us exactly how it was. And we restored 
it, and then we showed it to him when we 
finished and he was Very pleased. I never 
spent three hours with him or anything— 
maybe hour or half an hour. Quite a fellow, 

How about some of the other car builders and 
designers. Are you close to them or have you 

Oh, well, I know Mr. [Enzo] Ferrari; I’m 
friends with him. I can go into that if you like. 

I met him (I’m a Ferrari nut)—. First trip 
to Europe was in ’61.1 was on a tour, and we 
went—we were in Italy, and by maneuvering 
the schedule a little, I could go to the Ferrari 
factory. I wasn’t a distributor then; I was a 
dealer. But I knew somebody that knew him, 
and I knew the factory and I got them to 
arrange, and I was—so I had an appointment. 
And I went to the factory and was shown 
around and I met Mr. Ferrari. I had my picture 
taken with him, fortunately, which I have— 
still have it; it’s on display. 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


Then I visited the factory about every two 
to three years. That’s ’61, so, how many times? 
And I don’t like to bug anybody, so I don’t see 
Mr. Ferrari every time, but I see him maybe 
every third time, something like that. And I 
have several pictures of’61 and ’66 and ’69. 
In fact, the Ferrari people were here recently, 
and they said, “Hey, when you cornin’ back?” 
And they had kept track, or Mr. Manicardi 

But I hadn’t been there in some time, and 
I said, “Well, I hate to bug you.” 

And they said, “No, you’re not buggin’ 
us. We feel that you don’t like us if you don’t 
show up.” And they are arranged for it, where 
it doesn’t stop their production any for me to 
come in. 

I remember the last time I was there, it 
was very exciting because I got to ride in a 
new 6.6—what was the model number? Three 
sixty-five, two plus two. It was a new model— 
’fact the first one I’d seen, and Mr. Ferrari took 
me for a ride in it, which was thrilling to ride 
with Mr. Ferrari. I remember he was sixty- 
nine; the next day was his seventieth birthday. 
And he drove like a man of twenty-two ’ cause 
he was formerly a race driver, you know, so 
he really can drive. 

And it was kinda fun—I love to tell the 
story because I had a similar car. This had a 
365. See, it’s in cc’s, and it’s times twelve, so 
that was 4.4 liters, yeah. But the one I had 
driven was maybe a 350 or something, about 

But his driving—he drove beautifully, 
and like we’d go through a little town, and 
he’d slow down; and then he’d get out in the 
narrow road and up the hill and around 
and rrrrr [gesture shifting gears] - I was 
watching, and he did everything perfect. I 
was watching very critically. He drove exactly 
right—not goofy, you know, very fast, but 
just perfect. 

So we started down this slight slope down, 
and there was a hill ahead I could see. 

And he was in third, and he went into fourth 
tight away. And, so the hill rose about like that 
[gentle slope], you know. And I had a very 
similar car. So I would’ve, if I’d been driving, 
I would’ve left it in fourth to pull that hill 
without—without, what’s the word—dragging 
on the engine. 

He was in fourth and he could’ve gone to 
fifth, but if it’d been me driving, I would’ve 
stayed in fourth because you go into fifth— 
that’s a higher gear, and the engine would’ve 
really had to—it wouldn’t’ve been the right 
gear. The engine’d been turning too slowly and 
all. So I thought, well, I just would’ve stayed 
in fourth. And we got down about to here, 
and he shifted into fifth, and I thought, “Well, 
he made a mistake.” But then he stepped on 
it, and as we got to the hill, he just pulled it 
beautifully. And what I hadn’t allowed for was 
the extra four hundred cc’s. In other words, it 
was the same car except a little bigger engine 
which had a little more horsepower, a little 
more torque. So, of course, he was absolutely 
right. It pulled it in fifth beautifully, and we’re 
a hundred miles an hour, down to ten. What 
a thrill that was. 

And then he took me in where they do 
their engines. See, they build all the engines, 
of course, and they run ’em all in. So you can 
take a Ferrari and drive it wide open the day 
you get it. And they run ’em in. You walk 
down a hail, and they have a room, and these 
engines are all running, rrrrrr. There’s a closed 
door there, but a window that you can look in, 
and you can go in. So they re maybe running 
twelve engines then at a time. So he took 
me down there, which is a treat; everybody 
doesn’t get to go there. 

So then he took me into another room 
which was an air tunnel. An air tunnel—you 
know, you turn on the air, and you can have a 


William F. Harrah 

hundred miles an hour, two hundred miles an 
hour, whatever. And these car shapes, there’s 
little ribbons on ’em, you know, to tell how 
the wind resistance is and all. And they had 
all these futuristic designs, and you can see 
1970, ’75, ’80, ’85, you know—oooh!—you’re 
lookin’ like that. 

And so afterwards I was very thrilled, 
and just he and I were in there, and he had a 
big lock on it and all. So then later I saw Mr. 
Manicardi for lunch or whatever, and that’s 
the American—I mean the English-speaking 
one—was their kinda PR man. “So how was 

And I said, “Oh, wonderful—and the 
engines and all.” And I said, “And that wind 
tunnel room—.” 

And he said, “You were in there?” 

And I said, “Yes.” 

And he said, “Did you know the only 
people that get to go in there are Mr. Ferrari 
and the chief engineer?” He said, I’ve been 
with the company for twenty-something—” 
he said, “I’ve never been in there!” [Laughing] 
So I was very thrilled that he took me through 
there. And for some reason he likes me, or he 
likes us—I don’t know—but that’s wonderful. 

Then another man I met that had his 
name on a car is Mr. Bentley, who designed 
the Bentley car, which later went in with the 
Rolls Royce. But I visited him in England a 
few years ago. I have a picture of that day, too, 
which was one of the biggest days in my life. 
A mutual friend, a car collector, made the 
appointment for me and drove me out; he 
lived outside of London, Mr. Bentley and his 
wife—W. 0. were his initials; everybody calls 
him W. 0., or did. He was about seventy-five 
when I met him—very clear—his mind was 
clear. So we spent the whole day, had lunch 
and then just sat and talked. I asked him many 
questions about the car and the engine—they 
have a very unusual camshaft, a setup. And it’s 

a wonderful thing. And it’s the only car that 
uses it, and it’s absolutely quiet and actually 
it’s a wonderful design. 

I knew he’d been a railroad man, but I’d 
forgotten—I made no connection between the 
two. And he’d been a railroad man, and then 
he’d gotten into cars. So I said, “Mr. Bentley, 
how did you ever figure out that camshaft 

And he said, “Well, you know, I was a 
railroad engineer.” 

And I said, “Yes,” and then he just looked 
at me and grinned. And as you know, the 
engine, a locomotive, the steam, and there’s a 
rod comes out, and it’s hooked onto the wheel 
and it turns, you know, and it drives like that 
[gesture wheel turning]. And that’s exactly 
how he drove his camshaft. 

And he said, “I was a railroad engineer.” 
And then it hit me, and it is, it is an exact copy. 

But he told me, he started on a shoestring 
and built these Bentley cars—they were super 
sports cars—and he won a lot of races, but he 
was always behind—never enough money. 
And they were a very desirable car, and they 
won a lot of races. Then it just got tougher and 
tougher, but they kept going, kept going, kept 
going till the ’30s, early ’30s and Depression 
and all, and then he just had to give up and 
sold out to Rolls Royce. He was—paid his 
bills and could walk away. He had some 
money; he wasn’t a wealthy man. And then he 
thought—and I kinda agree with him—that 
he thought Rolls would continue’ the Bentley, 
’cause it was a sports car. But all Rolls did, they 
really junked the Bentley. Today you can buy 
a Bentley, but it’s just a Rolls with a Bentley 
radiator and Bentley hubcaps. So he was very 
disappointed at that, which he told me; he 
said, “I didn’t know that was gonna happen, 
but,” he said, “it did,” and he was out the door, 
then. They were kinda cold to him ’cause he 
didn’t have much money, and they just kinda 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


dusted him off, which—for what that’s worth. 
And I respect the Rolls company, but I think 
their relationship with Bentley was—. 

But anyway, I spent the day, had lunch 
with him and his wife. She was a real sharp 
lady. They’d been married for forty, fifty years. 
And they weren’t doin’ too good, you could 
see; they had this little apartment and a little 
tiny car. They weren’t hungry or anything, 
but they didn’t have much. And he was very 
interested in the Collection. And I told him 
about it. I had one of these books, and it 
was— told him. “Oh gee. Gee, I’d love to see 
that one.” 

I said, “Well, can you come over?” 

“No, no, no, we can’t—we don’t have any 
money, you know.” so I thought, Maybe I 
should invite them.” And then I thought, “No, 
I just met ’em today; it might be a little too—” 
on, what’s the word?—loud American. So I 
thanked—’’Good-bye”— and then I wrote 
a very nice thank-you letter later and really 
worked hard on it. “Thank you—one of the 
biggest days in my life. I’ve thought about it 
a lot, and would like to extend to you and 
Mrs. Bentley an invitation to visit the United 
States and especially the Collection, but also, 
as long as you’re here, (this is at my expense), 
and Washington or New York,” whatever else 
they wanted to see in two or three weeks— 
whatever they like. 

And so I didn’t hear. I thought, “Oooh, I 
wonder if I offended ’em?” 

And then finally I did hear, and it was a 
real nice letter. And I think she wrote it and 
wrote kinda “we.” And he dictated it—’’And 
we’ve talked—it was thrilling, your invitation. 
We’ve talked about it and we’ve thought 
about it. What could be more wonderful,” 
and, “ultimate of our lives,” and all. He said, 
“We’ve given it very serious consideration, 
and we’re sorry to say we have to turn it down.” 
And the reason was— and it was explained 

real good—that his health really wasn’t too 
good, and he could probably make it, but 
there would be problems traveling, and he 
couldn’t walk too good, and his heart, and 
his blood pressure, and on and on, and it was 
just inadvisable at his age in his state of health 
to make the trip. Then he died two or three 
years afterwards—or four years—but I’ve 
often wondered, well—I mean was it the right 
decision? I’m sure it was, but still it would’ve 
been so nice for him to—. And I did have an 
excellent collection of Bentleys for him to see, 
plus the other cars. 

I think those are the only two I’ve ever 
met, I believe. I think there’s one more. I can’t 

Observations on Modern Auto 

Suppose we talk for a little while about 
the industry itself—about how you see the 
evolution of the automobile industry. 

Ooh, that’s a big subject. Okay. Well, the 
reason the company is in existence—we’re 
talkin’ about American companies— the 
reason they are in existence—there’s only four 
now—General Motors and Ford, Chrysler, 
and American Motors. And they’re the 
survivors. It’s a terrible competitive and dog- 
eat-dog business. But General Motors is the 
biggest and the most successful and primarily 
because they’re just such good operators. And 
then every facet of it just—they have good 
design, good planning, good marketing, good 
quality; they don’t miss a bet that I can see. 

And Ford, it’s Number Two, and they do 
an excellent job but not as good as General 
Motors ’cause Ford doesn’t cover the field 
like General Motors does; they don’t have a 
car for every notch, which General Motors 
started that in the ’20s. And surprisingly to 


William F. Harrah 

me, nobody’s ever really successfully done 
that. And so Ford doesn’t do it, although the 
cars that Ford makes are good cars. They’re 
modern, well designed. 

And Chrysler is very similar to Ford in 
that respect. They don’t cover the market fully. 
And Chrysler, for all the years they’ve been 
in business, they’re not too good operators in 
that they seem to be running behind all the 
time, and so many things that they should do 
themselves, they have done. General Motors 
will send out a lot of work, which can be 
done better and cheaper on the outside. But 
Chrysler and to a lesser extent, Ford, will buy 
from suppliers or send out work that they 
could do themselves. And because of that, it’s 
kind of the easy way to do it. But that’s why 
General Motors can put out their Chevrolet 
for less cost than the Plymouth or the Ford— 
the comparable model—because they make 
so many more things themselves. And then 
Chrysler is very weak in that respect. They buy 
an awful lot of things that they should make. 

And American Motors has been a tiny 
little company for years and never was a big 
company, and I have the whole history of it, 
of course. It was Jeffrey, and then it was Nash, 
and then it was So-and-so and So-and-so. It 
almost died four or five times, as you probably 
remember, everyone does— and they were 
really on their deathbed, and George Romney 
got in there and made small cars. If they’d 
stayed with his principles, they’d be in better 
shape today because he said, “Build a small 
car and don’t get involved in the specialty cars 
and don’t get involved in the big cars. Get your 
little niche, a little different small car, a quality 
small car, and stay right there.” He could turn 
the company around—and left the company, 
which, of course, was his privilege. 

Then the various managements since then 
have gone in this direction and gone in that 
direction and gone in the other direction. 

It isn’t dead yet because they also own Jeep, 
which is the vehicle which I’m prejudiced 
towards, I guess ’cause I sell ’em. But it’s 
almost a one-of-a-kind car; there’s no direct 
competition with Jeep. So it makes a lot of 
money; it keeps American Motors afloat. 
Then they have another division (I forget the 
name of it) that built the buses and all, on 
contract and bids, and that division makes 
money. But the actual American Motors loses 
money, and primarily because of their—well, 
they got into big cars, and then they let their 
styling get behind, and—. I wouldn’t write 
’em off yet. It’s a management thing, and their 
designer, Dick Teague, is a real good friend of 
mine, who also is an antique car fella. He’s an 
excellent designer. But it’s a management—it 
comes down to management. But I still think 
American Motors could survive if they do the 
right things. 

I have a story to tell about Dick Teague. 
I’ve know him since he lived in Tos Angeles 
twenty years ago or longer, and I met him as 
an antique car fella. And he only has one eye, 
which impresses me because he is a designer 
and beautiful— which, of course, one eye is all 
you need. He was always just the flunky kind, 
and he worked for—I think he started with 
General Motors, and then he went to Packard, 
and I used to kid him because he went with 
I think about four losers in a row, I think the 
last one was Packard. And I asked him, “What 
company are you goin with next?” He said he 
didn’t know, and I said, “Well, maybe if you 
give ’em your record, they’ll pay you to stay 

But he tells one story that I love. He built 
a car for American Motors, and it was—and I 
can’t remember the name of it. It was a good- 
lookin’ car. And previously—’fact, when he 
designed it, when it came out, it was such a 
good-lookin’ car that I borrowed one from a 
local dealer. It was a (the name’ll come to me). 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


And I had my picture taken with it and sent 
it to Dick. And I said, “Dear Dick—Then I 
signed it, “Gee, Dick you finally got one.” And 
I said, “Gee, that’s wonderful.” He’d previously 
designed the Marlin. 

That was supposed to be a sporty car, and 
it was a two-door; it was a Nash. And the front 
end looked pretty good, and then the rear end, 
it just looked terrible. So then one day I was 
at a car meet or something with Dick Teague, 
and I said, “Gee, Dick, that car you designed 
was so beautiful.” I said, “Wow! How did you 
do that?”—you know. 

And he said, “Well, I’ll tell ya.” He said, 
“This is the car business.” He said, “I can 
design good-lookin’ cars, there’s no question.” 
And he said, “But I design it; then it goes into 
the committee, and they change this and they 
change that, and it depends on who’s strongest 
in the committee what comes out of there.” 
And he said, “Well, let me get to the Marlin 
first—” and he said, “I designed—” and he 
sketched it like this [gestures], and it was a 
beautiful thing. He said, “It was like that. Like 
here’s the front of-the car, and then it’s like 
that, and a real fastback, like that, see.” Real 
wooo! Said, “That was the car I submitted to 
the committee.” And they said, “Oh, it looks 
good. Fine.” So they built a mock-up, and 
that’s a full-sized model. 

So he said the chairman of the board was 
great big guy, and Dick was away on vacation 
or somethin’ anyway, which wouldn’t have 
made any difference. But the big guy—they 
went in; he looked at the mock—”Oh, that’s 
beautiful.” But he says, “I don’t like any car 
that I can’t ride in the back seat without my 
hat on.” So he got in the back seat with his hat 
on, and of course, to accommodate him, they 
had to raise this. So instead of that pretty line 
there, it came like this [drawing]. And then, 
of course, they only had this far to go; they 
had to come way back in fast, so it just had 

an awful-lookin’ rear end. I’ll show you one 
if you want to—when you’re at the Collection 
sometime. It’s horrible. He said, “Because of 
that, that’s the way the car came out, and the 
car was a flop.” 

He went on and told about the new one 
he’d done. And he said, “Well, this,” he said, “I 
designed it exactly the way I wanted to.” And 
he said, “I submitted it to the committee.” And 
he said, “They were gonna act on it, and they 
had a political problem.” So I don’t know— 
maybe they all got fired or something. And 
fact, nobody was runnin’ the company for a 
little while, and the politics are goin’ on; so he 
said, “Before the new group could come in, 
they were so far behind on their production 
line, they said, ‘Give us that damn design, 
Dick. We gotta get this line goin’.’” 

So he sent the design down ’cause there 
was nobody to approve it, so there was 
nobody to change it. So it went through 
[laughing] untouched! But he said, “That was 
the only reason ’cause nobody was runnin the 
company.” He said, “Ifthere’dbeen somebody 
there, they’d’ve changed somethin’ just to be 
changin’ somethin’.” 

I learn from these things, too, and of 
course, I get in. But things are submitted, like 
our advertising, many times. And I’ll want to 
say this, and I’ll speak up if I—but I’m a lot 
more cautious than I used to be because I’ll 
think, “Well, gee, I don’t like that. But now 
wait a minute. That does that mean—I mean 
the general public. Will they not like that? Or 
is it just me my own personal thing, gettin in 
the way?” And I think I’ve learned somethin’ 

course, on the other hand, you can prove 
anything just about either way. You can prove 
both sides of a subject. General Motors is 
about the strongest committee company 
there is in the world. There’re committees on 
committees, but still they get so much done 


William F. Harrah 

and so much good done. They just have a 
philosophy that seems to really work. 

And funny, over the years, I know I’ve 
bought very few General Motors cars for 
personal use. And I guess maybe it’s, I like 
something a little different, a little faster, a 
little hotter, a little more rakish, a little more 
something, and they were always kind of 
middle of the road, and I never really want to 
be in the middle of the road. Each car in each 
class is an excellent car and usually ahead of 
the competition. And you can’t knock success. 
And they have committees, but—. It’s quite a 
company, General Motors. 

Maybe it’s true that there really is a mass 
market out there. 

Oh, yeah, that’s no problem; that never 
has since the Model T Ford, that people would 
rather have a Ferrari or a Bugatti because it’s a 
little different. But still they will— if they can 
afford it and they like the car, they don’t care 
if there’s a million other of the identical car 
goin’ down the street. If that bugged people, 
you wouldn’t see all the Chevies you see, or 
the Fords, or the Jeeps, course, the multicolors 
and all helps that a lot. 

You weregoingto talk about Chrysler engineering. 
Is that really the engineering company ? 

Well, it was. Years ago, it started that way. 
Walter P. Chrysler Was a great engineer, and 
he handed it down. Over the years Chrysler 
engines have always been good. In the last 
twenty years they were first with a hemi 
engine, which was really revolutionary, and 
which they abandoned because of cost, which 
many of we car freaks have despaired about. 

They also had a front end torsion bar 
system that was super. It came out in the ’50s, 
and was so far ahead of everybody—General 

Motors and Ford—that a Chrysler would 
corner so much better. Of course, they’ve 
caught up now, and the other companies have 
caught up on engines and suspensions. I don’t 
think Chrysler engineering is superior to 
anybody any more. They’re not the healthiest 
company there is. 

They have more bad years, and their costs 
run higher when things are good; they don’t 
make as much money as the others. And when 
things are bad, they lose more, their factories 
are behind. They’re not nearly as good as Ford 
and General Motors. Arid they’ll be the next 
company to go if there is another one— I 
mean after American Motors. 

Of course, the unions have just murdered 
the car companies. That’s the biggest problem 
they have is their expense, plus their shoddy 
workmanship. I would hate to be in that 
business, like to put out a Cadillac, which is 
a quality car. They use their best workmen 
there, and still they do lousy work. That costs 
money to do it over and over—terrible. 

Is that really traceable to the unions, or is it 
something else? 

Hm, I blame the unions, for the car 
companies—they don’t want to build bad 
cars; they want to build good cars. But many 
of their employees they can’t fire, and they 
do shoddy work and make—and just—it’s 
lousy. And many of’em—not all of’em—but 
many of ’em just don’t give a damn, just the 
hell with it. Maybe I shouldn’t say unions, but 
management doesn’t say, “Hey, you guys, we 
want you to build a bum car today.” I’m sure 
of that. 

And there’s bum cars cornin’ out that 
door at a tremendous expense—tremendous 
labor expense—when the unions should be 
tellin their fellas, “We’re gettin you this much 
money; now put out a day’s work for it.” And 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


then everybody’d be happy But when they 
don’t care how good a job they do as long as 
they pay their dues, why, it’s a sad situation. 

That’s why the Japanese have made such 
tremendous inroads, because of the quality of 
their products. The engineering is good, but 
it’s no better than American. But the quality 
is excellent—just excellent. And that’s the 
Japanese workman— takes pride in his work. 

And the Germans, too. All of which I 
sell—Mercedes and BMW and Volkswagen 
are all quality, excellent workmanship. 

Italian workmanship is pretty good, but 
they have a lot of union problems there. These 
one-day strikes are their big thing over there. 
When the car comes out the door, it’s a pretty 
good car—better than American, I’ll say that. 

You think of the assembly line as having 
been really the answer to a lot of these mass 
production problems and the way it was 
developed here. 

Well, it was real good for a while till the 
unions—like Ford or Henry Ford, Sr., he had a 
lot of faults, but he did pioneer the five-dollar 
day when I think wages were two-forty or 
somethin’, and. he raised everybody to five 
dollars. And they had to work for it, but still 
it was double wages. And there’s no way you 
could’ve got a union in the plants then. 

But also, something that’ll be real 
interesting to observe—you know, Volkswagen 
is gonna open a plant in Pennsylvania this 
year; to save the costs is the only reason for 
it. They figure they can build a Volkswagen in 
this country cheaper and sell it cheaper than 
they can build one in Germany and bring it 
over and sell it because the wages have gone 
up there very high. 

And okay—the next logical question— 
’’All right, you have excellent quality in 
Germany; what are you going to do about 

quality here?” And they’ve planned for it, and 
I think they’ve negotiated a contract, where 
they will have more authority in firing than 
the other car companies. I think the other 
car companies have been rather negligent 
there in not gettin’ the power to tire. And 
I think because Volkswagen was wanted 
and because of the—Pennsylvania wanted 
’em and all, that there was a lot of political 
push—yes. So they insisted on this; it’s really 
a special contract with the union, that they do 
have a better quality, and it’s easier for them 
to fire somebody or have ’em fired. Plus, I 
think they’re gonna use two or three or four 
inspectors to one of the other companies It’ll 
be interesting, really interesting, to see if they 
can get the quality. And if they can, why then 
the other car companies, there’s no reason 
they shouldn’t do it, too. And they could 
negotiate, if they wanted to, a similar contract 
for competitive reasons, ’cause the Pinto 
competes against the Volkswagen. So then it 
might be a real good thing for everybody. 

And those workmen, they’re human 
beings, and if you could just turn ’em around. 
Of course, a slob’s a slob, but there’s some 
people—if it made ’em happy to go home with 
a—’cause I know I would, if I was a workman; 
I feel wonderful if I’ve done a good day’s work. 
What little side windows I put in were all put 
in right, I’d feel better than if I’d put ’em in 
sloppy. I don’t know. Maybe there’s a way of 
gettin that message across. Hope so, for the 
good of the country. 

Is it, then, that the real pleasure you get from 
the Collection is the beauty of the cars? 

Well, the beauty and the engineering, you 
know? I mean you can appreciate engineering 
without touchin’ ’em, you know, like the 
newest Ferrari or the newest Mercedes or 
something—I love the engineering, and 


William F. Harrah 

I can describe it to you, but no way—and 
they’re so complicated today, no way could 
I do anything but—. No, I love the design 
and the—good design and the bum design, 
where American cars, many of ’em do have a 
poor design compared to—I was gonna say 
European cars, but I’d say other cars. Not only 
Japanese cars are very well designed (most of 
them), most European cars—. There are some 
good American cars, but there’re so many 
corners they missed that they could do just—. 
Absolutely ridiculous! General Motors should 
be ashamed of themselves. And they’re out to 
make a dollar, which they do very well, but 
for just a little more effort and no cost, they 
could build a better car. 

What would you build if you were building the 
car? Say, you’re going to build the “Harrah”.) 

Well, no, I don’t want to do that, ’cause it 
would be like a Ferrari, or like a Mercedes; 
only they do it better than I could do it, so I 
don’t want to tangle with them. 

Just to fantasize for a moment, and say, you 
were going to build the “Harrah.” 

Well, it would be depending on—if it was 
a sports car, I mean two-passenger and the 
high performance it would be like a Ferrari, 
the twelve-cylinder Ferrari. It would be about 
identical. I don’t know a thing I’d change. And 
then in a touring car, a five-passenger car, it 
would be the Mercedes 6.9, which is—nothing 
there that I’d change. I put some mirrors on 
it, and I think that’s the only thing I did to 
that car, ’cause it has a tachometer, it has all 
the goodies; it’ll go a hundred and forty miles 
an hour, so it’s a—. No, I would never—. 
Even years ago, I—people want to put their 
name on a car, and I wouldn’t put my name 

on it unless it was superior, and it just—. It’s 
a big thing makin a good automobile. A lot 
of people try it, and they fail every time, so it 
maybe a pretty car, but it’s no good compared 
to what you can buy, so it’s a profession, a big 
one for many years. 

You have these dealerships for American cars, 
too—the Jeep and the American Motors. Do 
you try to give them some advice? 

Oh, yes. 

How do they react? 

Well, just on Jeep—the other cars, we 
don’t. We sell them and—. But on Jeep, which 
is a big thing with us, and our men, they 
have dealer meetings and factory meetings, 
and they ask; you don’t have to volunteer, 
they ask, “What would you like?” And then 
we make—and they’re usually the same 
suggestions—this, that, and the other thing, 
but generally, they’re about what we want. 
Few little things that they know about, like 
it’s time for a new body on the Wagoneer. 
That one came out in ’63. This is ’78—that’s 
fifteen years. And it’s pretty, but it should be 
modernized. They were going to do it ’79 
or ’80, and then they keep moving it back, 
and they don’t have as much money as the 
other companies; and plus the fact that 
Wagoneers have taken off, and lately they 
keep increasing production and increasing, 
so why change it when they’re sellin’ all they 
can build? But we make suggestions. We 
make suggestions to Ferrari, too, but more 
merchandising than design. They do a super 
job of design. 

As kind of a related thing while you’re just 
thinking about the car industry in general, 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


would you like to discuss your participation in 
the freeway planning through this area? 

Oh, yeah, well, our position right from 
the start was we wanted the freeway, number 
one; and then number two, we wanted it as 
close as feasible to downtown Reno. It was that 
simple. And it couldn’t be south or north or 
wherever, you know. Walter Baring got out—I 
think somebody paid him. I think, without 
any question, that nobody goes that far out on 
a thing. And it got to be a political football. 
But I’m happy where it is, but it could’ve gone 
a lot of places, but I sure didn’t want it ten 
miles north or ten miles south or right down 
here. SO I think it’s fine where it is; it’s okay. 
Maybe it’s too close to the University, I don’t 

I just wondered if you got involved in the 
discussion, if some of your people got involved. 

Oh yeah, well, we played it the way we 

Would you like to describe that a little bit? 

Oh, I did, more or less—we were just on 
the edge. In the casino business, you don’t get 
out in front. You know, that’s dumb ’cause you 
feel like you maybe have too many people, you 
know, and probably rightly so—say, you’re 
tryin’ to run the town and makin’ a lot of 
money and all. So it’s good to take a position; 
I think it’s bad to say, “No comment” on 
somethin’ like that. And we did, but we sure 
didn’t want to be out in front where we could 
get our chin hit. But I think our position was 
no secret all along. But still Walter Baring— 
and I didn’t agree with him at all—but still he 
was our congressman, and I’m not gonna say, 
“Walter Baring you’re a dirty so and so,” you 

know. But I stated our whole thing, and that 
was our position all along. 

Did you communicate with Mr. Baring on it 
or anything? 

Well, I don’t—see, I’m always on the edge 
of that sort of thing. But I knew what we were 
doing, but I didn’t talk to Walter; I didn’t talk to 
any of’em. Walter and I were real good friends. 
Fact, I gave him a job one time when he had 
been defeated; he had that one term and he was 
between. And he had a terrible time, you know. 
I think he had a child that was handicapped, 
and he was just—. 

This is a funny story—well, funny, pitiful 
story. But that time we had maybe two or three 
or four hundred employees, and I talked to the 
manager—Bob Ring or whoever it was—and 
said, “Find somethin’ for Walter to do. He just 
is out of a job and he’s (you know)—doesn’t 
have any money.” 

And they looked and they looked and they 
talked to him and they looked and they looked, 
and they come back and they said, “There’s 
nothin’ in the company [laughing] that Walter 
could do!” 

I think I got him his job, and—what was 
his business? 

He was in the furniture business for a while. 

Yeah. In furniture, and then I got him a job 
at HermannWilson. See, [Dudley] Wilson was a 
real good friend of mine; I was buyin Chryslers, 
plus, Wilson liked me. I knew more about cars 
than he did, and he loved to talk car—he’d ask 
questions, you know—’’Why do you like that 
car?” And I’d tell him. We were friends. He’d 
always get me the latest Chrysler sooner than 
he should’ve and all that; he was a good guy. I 
went to him, and I said, “Do me a favor.” 


William F. Harrah 

And he said, “I sure will.” He was that kind 
of a guy. 

And so, here Walter wasn’t the smartest 
guy in the world, but a lot of people know him 
and like him, you know. And he was there for 
I think maybe till he got reelected and was a— 
one of the best jobs he had. 

So Walter and I were friends till he died; 
you know, you couldn’t help just liking him. 

And I remember I stopped in Lovelock 
or Winnemucca one time and, you know 
how Walter got around the state, how he was 
unbeatable ’cause he electioneered so great. 
And I went in this bar, and I wanted to have 
a—well, I didn’t drink when I was drivin’ 
much, so I went in the restaurant. Yeah, it 
was— what’s his name that lost his license 
over there in Lovelock? 

Felix. I went in Felix’s to have a sandwich, 
and Walter was there. And this was when he 
was big and, you know. And he was smilin’ 
and talkin’ and—’’Bill! How are ya?” And he 
come over, and I’d seen him a week before 
or somethin’—but, shook hands and—”Sit 
down, Bill. How are ya?” You know, “You give 
me all the—.” 

I said, “Walter, you don’t have to do that 
with me. You know, I’m with you, you know.” 
And he just kept right on goin’, just went right 
through [laughing], 

I remember I told my wife or whoever I 
was with—I said, “Well, I’m sorry I took forty 
minutes, but [laughing], that’s Walter Baring!” 

But he did, and he was never in a hurry, 
and he visited, and someone else’d come in, 
and he’d go right through the whole thing with 
them. And I think he genuinely liked people, 
as you can’t do that without goin’ crazy, unless 
you do like—. 

But of Walter—he was all right. But he’s 
better ’n some of those jerks back there—a 
lot of them. But in the freeway, he was payin’ 

off a debt there, I guess. It was too bad it 
took so long; it was dumb, but those things 

But it’s sure nice it’s there; I use it quite a 
bit, especially when my ex-wife—see, she lived 
out on [Mayberry]. 

She lived out there, and I go see the boys 
all the time. And I’d be at HAC, and to get 
from there to Mayberry—and maybe I’m goin 
over at five o’clock at night, you know, ’cause 
the boys are out of school and they’re home 
by then. And I did many hundreds—well, 
countless times. And I would leave HAC and 
go down onto McCarran, come down and 
get on the freeway, “zzzzz” up here to the 
second one after here (I think it is), and then 
just down, and Mayberry, and right on out— 

Having decent roads really means 
a lot to your business, in general. I just 
thought you might like to discuss that. 

Well, within the last several years I’ve 
driven to San Francisco at least once. I try 
to do it every couple of years, and it’s such 
a pleasure now. I remember last time I went 
with Verna, and we’d never driven it before. 
Talkin’ about Sacramento, I said, “We’ll be 
there pretty soon.” And then I [turns head] — 
there it was! [Laughing] You know, we just—! 
’cause I remember for years there, the freeway 
would go right up, and then there would be 
a mile or two of city streets, and then more 
freeway. And then, of course, they connected 
it up, and you just went sailing through. It’s 
just wonderful. 

I enjoy that drive. I try to do it once a year 
now— San Francisco to Reno or vice versa. It’s 
amazing, you know; years ago it took much 
longer than it does today—you know the 
goofy speed limits they got. 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


“Goofy Over Cars” 

Will you summarize your feelings about your 
“love affair” with automobiles? 

Well, I like all cars, and I like new cars as 
well as old ones. I keep up on what’s new in 
the automotive world, I think. I read—like 
my wife says, all I ever read is automobile 
magazines; that isn’t really true, but it’s pretty 
true [chuckling]. We take about everything 
there is out at HAC, and they all come to 
my office. And some I’ll automatically send 
back, and then some that—maybe one I’ll 
automatically send back, but there’s an 
intriguing—I always look at the cover and 
see what’s in it; maybe I’ll take it. And I take 
fifteen or twenty home in a crack, and I read— 
or I glance at two or three a night, usually. 
And some are more interesting than others. 
And so, “Oh, boy, there’s a So-and-so!” And I 
do that, so I do keep up very well on modern 

And it’s nice now; years ago there were 
no automobile publications that amounted 
to anything. Motor Trend came out and Road 
and Track. I mean there were none in united 
States, where they’ve always had them in 
England. In fact, I used to buy automobile 
magazines always from England, and then 
just the last fifteen or twenty years from the 
united States. But as I said, I keep up on ’em, 
and then the newest car I’m interested in. And 
some cars I’m—makes of cars I prefer. 

We have the many dealerships in Reno, 
which just came about by love of cars. I got 
the Rolls Royce dealership because I was 
buyin Rolls Royces. And I had no thought of 
being a dealer, but I was having difficulty— 
the distributor in San Francisco was a little (I 
still think he’s a little stodgy or whatever the 
word was) —he was a little difficult to deal 

with. Who knows, the ego thing or what— 
but I think I’m right on that. We were buying 
many Rolls Royces for the company ’cause I 
like them as a prestige—I wasn’t a Rolls Royce 
guy, but my wife of the time had a Rolls. And 
we were buying limousines, and it was rather 
difficult. And then somehow it hit me, or I 
figured out, or it became apparent that if I was 
a dealer, it would be very helpful; I could go 
to the factory, I could do this and that. And I 
would still have to work through him, but it 
gave me a lot more. And it was offered, and 
so I accepted. 

It was just a two-way thing to get Rolls 
Royces faster and cheaper and a better— 
which I did—I went to the factory, which 
you cannot go to the factory unless you are a 
dealer. But I had no thought of selling Rolls 
Royces in Reno—I mean that’s ridiculous. 
But we opened up; we put out a sign, “Rolls 
Royces,” and we’ve always sold, oh, six to 
twelve a year— (now, of course, it’s more). 
And then well, that includes many of em to 
our stars, like—I can’t think of a star, a big star, 
that hasn’t bought one or more Rolls Royces 
from us. And, well, of course, we give ’em a 
good deal. Like Sammy Davis must’ve bought 
ten over the years, and Frank Sinatra, two or 
three. Our top stars like, oh, Neil Sedaka. I 
think Bill Cosby’s about the only one—he’s a 
Mercedes fella. We’ve gotten him, of course, 
now that we have Mercedes, but for years I 
got him Mercedes—just got ’em, you know, 
went out of my way to find one and get it for 
him at a good price. 

But then the Rolls came along, and then 
Ferrari, which again that was it—I was a 
Ferrari guy. There was a lady distributor that 
was—didn’t like—well, I got the agency. I 
was havin’ trouble getting Ferraris. So I had 
a chance to buy the agency, the Reno area. 
And then I couldn’t get cars because of this 


William F. Harrah 

lady—didn’t like my manager and so on; it was 
a big hassle. And finally I got that straightened 

And then for no reason—I don’t know 
yet, ’cause I was real happy to have the agency, 
and then Ferrari—and I mean the company 
and the man—and I forget how it came 
about—if it was orally or a letter or what. 
They said, “Would you like to be west coast 
distributor?”—which is generally west of the 
Mississippi. I think we have twenty-some 
states distributed on, and we have the dealers. 

And I said, “Gee whiz, yes! Wow! Sure!” 
And so the paperwork started, and I kept 
thinkin, “One of these days, I’m gonna get a 
bill or a—say, ‘Well, now that’s gonna cost you 
so much. And it never happened. 

And they’ve been—course, we’ve gone 
out of our way to be a good distributor, you 
know. And there are things about being a 
good distributor, in other words, like you want 
to be good with the factory. Ferrari, which 
they like to get their money when the—and 
then even when our credit is good. They want 
their money when the car goes on the ship 
over in— it’s either Italy, or they ship out of 
Germany (Hamburg). And that’s, you know, 
thirty days before we get the cars; and of 
course, the accountants and even my lawyer 
say, “Well, gee, that’s not fair!” Well, that’s not 
the point; Ferrari wants it that way, and boy, 
they’re the guys that sell you the cars. And 
they’re doing you a big favor: they’re sellin 
you the car at five to ten thousand dollars 
less than you can sell it for, why, you should 
be real nice to them, so I do it exactly the way 
they want. So we’re a good distributorship; 
they like us very much, which I’m proud of, 
because we work that. 

And then also you gotta be super fair. 
Tike we buy them at a very big discount. And 
then we sell ’em to our dealers at wholesale. 
But there’s a big markup in between there. 

And there is a temptation—people come to 
Reno to buy a Ferrari. We have a retail agency 
here, and we have to be very careful to keep 
the retail and the wholesale separate. Andwe 
could sell ten Ferraris a day out of our (well, 
that’s exaggerating a little but not too much) 
—out of our retail store here. But in doing 
that, a man comes from San Mateo and buys 
a Ferrari here, we have a dealer in that area. 
Well, that’s his prospect, not ours. So we’ll say, 
“Hey,” you know, “go back and make your deal 
with him. And if you want to come up here, 
you can take delivery of the car here—that’s 
fine. But you buy it from your—” (you know). 

So we protect our dealers. They come at 
you from every direction—just how to not 
do that. And we do not violate the manager 
who’s—Kyle’s his name; that’s his last name, 
but we call him Kyle [Vein Kyle]. And he just 
is so strong on that, and it’s been so good 
for our reputation that we have an excellent 
reputation—like we can tell a dealer, “I’m 
sorry, we’ve only got so many cars; your 
allotment is three—.” Well, they know that’s 
all we can give ’em, that’s it. We’re not slippin’ 
this guy six or somethin’ because you know, 
they’ve been around long enough to know we 
just deal—here we got sixty cars, and four to 
you, and four to him, and six to him because 
he’s bigger, and you know. 

But anyway, that’s been real profitable. 
That’s the basis for all the other dealerships. 
Jeep came along just because it was for sale 
at a real good price, and the owner had lost 
interest. And it was one of those opportunities 
that you don’t believe would ever happen; you 
don’t even think about it, and then it comes 
along. I’ve been lucky in my life having many 
of those. And something I do say, which a lot 
of people do—but a lot of people don’t—and 
is when an opportunity comes along and it’s a 
good one, grab it! And so many people [say], 
“Gee, I don’t really have the money,” or, “I 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


don’t really—” you know, and they’ll argue 
against themselves all the reasons for not 
doin’ it, and miss it. And many times I’ve said 
yes to things where I didn’t have the money 
But I thought, “By God, I’m sure I can get it 
somewhere.” Somebody—”Do you want so 
and so for such and such?” 

I say, “Yeah!” [Hits desk] “Let’s sign the 
papers!” In the meantime, I’m runnin’ around 
the back door of the bank, sayin’, “Hey! Need 
a little money here!” Boy, when opportunity 
knocks, you better open the door. That’s so 

Of course, most of those deals were 
prethought, where it didn’t take a big decision 
on my part. It was just something I’d love 
to have, like the Jeep thing. I knew what it 
was worth, I’d love to have it—but how? You 
know. How am I ever gonna get it? The guy’s 
had it for fifteen years, and he’s makin’ a lot 
of money; it’s not for sale. 

Same thing happened with Mercedes here, 
which is a car I love. That was untouchable. 
I thought, “Gee, I (you know)— I missed 
that by twenty years.” And then I had a new 
manager, who I’ll give him credit—that’s 
Harvey Ewing. He’s the general manager of 
all the agencies, which we needed when we 
got more than one, and he’s an excellent man; 
he’s from the east coast, and he does a tine job. 
And we were talkin’ Mercedes, and we were 
talkin’ about openin’ one at Tahoe if we could, 
and this and that, because its such a wonderful 
car and there’s such a demand for it. 

And one day he said, “Well, why don’t we 
go ask Bill Sullivan,” who was the Mercedes 
dealer, “if he wants to sell it.” And I hadn’t 
even thought of it. 

And I said, “Well, all right. But (you know) 
why would he sell it, it’s such a wonderful thing.” 

And we went in and he was in the mood to 
sell, and gee, just a couple of weeks we’d made 
a deal on it, which was just unbelievable. A 

good Mercedes agency’s as good as anything 
you can have because they’re such super cars, 
and there’s a big profit in each one. And you 
can sell all you can get; you know, you’re livin’. 

Are these car agencies part of the Harrah’s 
Corporation, or all separate? 

No, that’s separate. Well, you know, there’s 
a good reason for that: one, is I’m a car person; 
and two, Harrah’s— it’s not their business. 
They’re in the casino and recreation, hotel, 
that—and so they shouldn’t be in the car 

So you own the car agencies. 

Yes, that’s strictly separate. And all the 
stuff in Idaho, I own separate. 

See, we have Jeep and American Motors; 
that’s one place. And Modern Classic 
Motors—that’s where we have Ferrari and 
also the offices for the wholesale. And that’s 
where they come in—Ferrari. And we have 
Rolls Royce, and we have Aston Martin, Fiat, 
and BMW, which is a real good item. That’s 
an excellent car. And that Mercedes—we 
have Mercedes and Datsun. Mercedes is the 
prestige—as good a car as there is, including 
Rolls Royce. And then we have Datsun for 
volume, and we sell, ooh, like last month we 
sold a hundred and fifty Datsuns. [Chuckles] 
That amazing? Uh-huh. 

And then in Idaho—in Ketchum, Idaho—I 
have the Jeep agency and I have Volkswagen 
and Audi and Porsche, which is kinda nice 
because it’s a little different line. And Jeep 
is wonderful for that country. And then the 
other was there. And it’s nice to—you know— 
like somebody wants a Volkswagen, a friend, 
why—. A new Volkswagen diesel is quite a car. 
A few friends of mine have wanted them, and 
I’ve been able to get ’em for em. 


William F. Harrah 

That’s a very small volume up there, but it’s 
also nice and—I’m in Sun Valley, which I’m 
there a lot, and I get up and have breakfast, 
so I like a place to go, and I can go down to 
the agency, say, “How’s business?” and “The 
garage floor is dirty,” and, you know, a few 
things. It’s really a fun thing with me. 

We took it over and had a little tiny shop, 
and we made the shop about six times bigger. 
In fact, it’s the best shop in that area—Sun 
Valley and Ketchum and Hailey. And so we 
get a lot of work from every kind of car there 
is ’cause most of the dealers up there just have 
a little, you know, seat-of-the-pants garage 
in the back. And ours is good. So we do real 
good in the shop, even though we don’t sell 
too many cars. It’s a fun thing; it really is fun. 

You must be stretching out to be becoming one 
of the largest foreign car dealers in the country, 
then, aren’t you? 

Oh, I don’t know. There’s some real big 
ones—you know, in big cities. But in numbers, 
it’s just—we’re not lookin’ for anything; it’s just 
a good one. A lot of cars I wouldn’t want to 
have; most American cars, I just don’t have 
any interest for ’em. Not that they’re not all 
right; for the money they’re excellent. But 
just they’re not my kind of car. And I have no 
desire to be a Pontiac dealer ever! Pontiac’s 
okay; Oldsmobile’s okay, you know. And the 
only American cars outside of Jeep, I would 
consider Cadillac in the right place. 

You have the American Motors dealership, 

Well, that comes from Jeeps. That’s an 
automatic thing, which doesn’t hurt anything, 
and also it makes the factory like you 
better—you’resellin them, too [chuckles]. It’s 
important! [Chuckling] 

But those are fun. I’m goofy over cars— 
old cars, new cars, all kinds of cars. 

And it’s interesting, too, over the years 
how you change, you know. You change; 
you’re not the person you were twenty years 
ago at all. And I’m not either, of course. And 
like with cars, I can remember many cars we 
have in the museum and when I was a kid, 
like a ’24 Essex coach, I thought was one of 
the “awfulest” cars ever made. And the reason 
was it had been a real good four-cylinder car, 
and they came out with a kind of a bum six 
cylinder. And the lines got worse—it was real 
boxy; it was real square—and they were very 
popular ’cause it was a very low price. And I 
can remember workin in the parking lot, how 
I hated those Essex coaches! I just thought 
that’s the worst car anybody could ever 
think—. And today I think they’re real cute, 
you know. And we have one in the museum, 
you know. “Look at that—[points].” It’s a cute 
little car, which is—many cars like that. 

And other cars, you know, as a kid, I 
thought were so super; well, now I know that 
they really weren’t, but I was lookin’ at ’em 
through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old kid, 
and now I’m lookin’ at ’em from an older kid. 
I’m more interested in other things, maybe. 
I generally like all cars; there’s very few cars I 
don’t like. 

Which ones are they, the ones you really don’t 

Oh, in antique cars hardly any, except—. 
I don’t have any names offhand, but there 
were just some cars that just didn’t make any 
sense right from the start. And they went 
out of business; just they were—compared 
to a competitor, maybe they weren’t as good 
lookin’, didn’t have as much horsepower, and 
didn’t handle as good and cost two hundred 
dollars more—you know, just, what’s their 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


excuse for bein’? You wonder why they even 
went into it. And of course, they failed. Any of 
those cars, they’re just a—I call ’em a nothin’ 
car.” And we have a few in the museum; and 
we call it that, you know. What’s that—’cause 
that’s a nothin’ car. Look, here’s 1927—look at 
that and (you know). Ninety horsepower, so 
much, da da da da da da da da da. And this 
is a sixty-four horsepower and—you know, 
not too good lookin’. No wonder they didn’t 
even last till the crash; they went out in ’27, 
you know. They’re not only car things; they’re 
example of life and business and how to do 
things, how not to do things. 

And like Henry Ford was such a 
tremendous success, he got production down, 
and he watched cost, so he got the price of 
his product down. And he was sellin’, you 
know, up to a million a year, and one time he 
had eighty percent or ninety percent of the 
American market. And he’s sellin all he could, 
and sellin the Ford for three hundred and 
fifty dollars, and he would cut it to three and 
a quarter, which doesn’t make sense, but still, 
then he sold another two hundred thousand. 
That extra twenty-five or fifty dollars made 
that difference, which made it all up to him, 
and a profit, plus. So a lot of good economic 
ideas in that. Put out a good product, which 
Ford knew, at the lowest possible market 
price, you know, where you can make a fair 
profit, and that’s the way to go. 

And we watch that today in business, you 
know. Like I’m not as active as I was, but you 
know, I keep track. Like any pricing of our 
restaurants, that all has to go through me, you 
know. And of course, our costs go up all the 
time, and everything is more and more, and 
wages are more and more, and they’ll come 
through and recommend an increase in our 
menu prices. And boy, I really look at every 
one. And just, you know, why charge a dollar 
seventy-five if you can sell it for a dollar sixty 

and have a fair profit. And then you want to 
watch that; you know, you think the fifteen 
cents doesn’t matter—it does matter. And 
somebody comes in and, you know— and it’s 
a dollar sixty here and it’s a dollar seventy-five 
at the Mapes; well, gee whiz, why go to the 
Napes? Let’s go to Harrah’s. Well, they walk 
by, and maybe puts a quarter in the machine, 
plus a good word for us. So, that’s the way you 
do things. Always keep your prices down. But 
you gotta protect yourself. 

What about some of the modern cars, then, 
that you really don’t like? 

[Chuckles] Oh, let me think. Well, they 
all have their good points. Buick’s never been 
a big favorite of mine. And I don’t know 
why, just maybe because it was “America’s 
car” or middle-class America or something. 
And there are some real outstanding Buicks, 
like the ’42 Buick Century was one of the 
outstanding cars ever—a real hot performer. 
And in ’42, Packard and Buick were the cars, 
and I was a Packard guy, but if I hadn’t got a 
Packard, I’d’ve got a Buick. Like today Buick 
just is a car—so what? Except they did come 
about with a turbo charger, which is kinda 
revolutionary for Buick. And Buick does get 
the short shrift of many things, like in General 
Motors—Buick is part of General Motors, 
and General Motors has had a policy for 
years, which I wouldn’t knock; it’s probably 
very good. Anything new, revolutionary, or 
different they want to try out, Oldsmobile 
always got it. Like the first front drive and the 
first—I can name ya— first automatic, so and 
so and so and so—Oldsmobile always got. So 
they’re more innovative—well, it’s not really 
Oldsmobile; it’s really General Motors—just 
prefers to try it in that level price. But Buick’s 
okay—someone buys a Buick, you know, 
which it’s kind of a “so what?” car. 


William F. Harrah 

But Ford’s a favorite of mine, generally, 
but they built some awful ones, some of those 
Thunderbirds. The first Thunderbirds were 
cute, and they made a lot of sense. Then they 
kept makin’ ’em, which is common practice; 
it’s how you do it in the United States. Like 
their annual model here is dumb. In Europe, 
why, they come out with a car that’s good, and 
they build it the same way year after year. Then 
that sensible modification comes along—you 
do it, which makes sense and that. So I’m not 
too in favor of the annual change, but they do 
it. Put a little more geegaws on, but I guess 
American public likes it that way. But like 
your Thunderbird— ’55—it was a wonderful 
car. And ’56, ’57 was okay. Then ’58 was a 
little longer, and ’59 and ’50s it just got to be 
a The early ’50s cars (or the ’50s cars) handled 
good, you know. Later, they just got to be just a 
barge, just another thing in Thunderbird, and 
little ol’ ladies drove ’em which is all right; a 
little of lady should have a car, but it just lost 
me entirely, and lost a lot of people. 

And, of course, Corvette, which was 
similar, not identical—similar, that was a 
sports car, and it really was, and they’ve kept 
it. And Corvette has always been a sports car. 
I’ll give Chevy credit, course, they had so 
many other models that Chevy alone covers 
almost the whole market; you can reach 
anything you want in a Chevrolet; that’s a 
good car; that’s a very good car. Ford and 
Chevy are excellent. 

But cars I don’t like are—well, there aren’t 
too many any more. Well, Oldsmobile’s a kind 
of a nothin’ car. That’s like a Buick; it’s just for 
middle-class America. I mean it’s a fine car 
for General Motors and for the American 
public; for me it’s just an uninteresting car, 
just [shrugs]—. So I can’t say they’re a bad 
car; they’re just uninteresting. There were 
some bad cars years ago. Today there aren’t 
any bad cars; they’re all pretty good. 

You know, the problems they have to 
go through with the unions and the cost of 
materials and all, I’m amazed they can do 
it, but they sure can. Those big companies— 
especially General Motors—they do it so well. 
Ford is very good. 

Chrysler’s always having problems; they 
never have got it on correctly. I mean they’ve 
built some good cars, but they always have 
a tough time with their finances and things. 
They’ve always been that way, since the early 
’30s. Chrysler’s always been—and they get a 
new management and come out with some 
neat stuff. And they always have a big load 
of debt, and their factories are kind of pass— 
usually, and it costs ’em more to put—you 
know, Plymouth costs more to build than an 
equivalent Ford or Chevrolet. So they have a 
handicap there. 

Some of these things just seem to come and then 
die out forever, like the rumble seat. What does 
the rumble seat mean to you ? 

Well, that made a lot of sense, ’cause I 
had cars with a rumble seat. But it was just 
a way of taking two more people along. It 
was real “now” (and I suppose it is today) 
to have a roadster or a convertible coupe—a 
two-passenger car. If you had a, you know, 
four passenger, it was your folks’ car; or five 
passenger, it was your folks’ car, or you were 
kinda weird, you know. You had—there was 
just no hesitancy. And my first car was a 
roadster. My second car was a cabriolet. And 
my roadster didn’t have a rumble seat, and 
only because they didn’t put ’em in that car. 
But the cabriolet, the ’29 Ford, did have a 
rumble seat. And it didn’t hurt the appearance 
of the car when it was closed; and when at was 
open, why, it was so handy to take a couple of 
friends along. It made a lot of sense; it really 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


The other thing that has gone is the convertible. 

Well, that’s just in United States, as 
every other country builds convertibles. Fiat 
builds convertibles, and Rolls Royce builds 
convertibles. Just United States. And I don’t 
know why; it’s not illegal. Fact, there’s a lot of 
body shops turning, you know, those so-called 
hardtops into convertibles nowadays. Just the 
factories decided to do that; I don’t know why, 
’cause it’s not a safety thing, necessarily. I don’t 
ride in a convertible—I don’t believe they’re 
as safe as a hardtop, but still motorcycles are 
legal—why, gee whiz, a convertible ought to 
be legal. You know, it’s up to the individual. 

Oh, I had a ’32 Ford and a ’33 Ford 
convertible. And then I got smart. That was 
my last convertible and never had one since. 
I may have told you that already, how unsafe 
they are, you know. 

Well, one good example was Tom Mix 
[chuckles]; that’s goin’ way back. And he 
was a big star. And he got killed in a Cord 
convertible down in Arizona. He was drivin’ 
fast, which is okay, but he hit this wash—and 
there’s a place down there now (it’s still there), 
and they have a little marker— “This is where 
Tom Mix died.” And he hit this thing at eighty 
miles an hour, and his Cord tipped over on 
him and squashed him flat. 

That was when, I remember at the time, 
I’d just gotten out of my ’33 convertible, and I 
had a Lincoln Zephyr (a hardtop); and I had 
been convinced—friends of mine had been 
hurt. So I was makin’ speeches whenever 
anybody’d listen against convertibles. Then 
he died, and then I added him on. And then 
I had a whole list at one time of various movie 
stars, celebrities, that had gotten drunk and 
run off the road and tipped over and killed 
themselves. And if they’d been in a hardtop, 
they probably wouldn’t’ve. A very dear friend 
of mine got killed in a convertible, so it just— 

they’re not safe. I’ll ride in a convertible, but 
I’m super careful. 

And then, of course, the old cars, they’re 
all open, or most of ’em are. But that’s a 
different world when you’re drivin them. And 
you’re not goin as fast, and you’re driving 
very defensively. And [I’m] happy to say that 
general public, modern cars, give you [old 
cars] a lot of leeway; they’re very kind— 
ninety-nine percent. And of course, you 
gotta watch for that one percent. But most of 
’em just, you know, they stop, and they wave 
and let you through—. You’re cornin’, and it’s 
their turn to come out, and they’ll just stay 
and [gestures wave] “C’mon,” you know, So 
the old cars— it’s very easy. Modern car, a 
convertible isn’t. That’s the law of averages. 
You could drive a convertible every day for 
ten years and nothin’. But then, some idiot’s 
thinkin’ about somethin’ else or he’s drunk, 
comes through a boulevard stop at forty miles 
an hour and hits you in the side, and over you 
go, and—you’ve had it. 

What kind of a car really do you think expresses 
your personality the best? I mean, when you 
think of “Bill Harrah,” what kind of car do you 
think of? 

Oh, a twelve-cylinder Ferrari—huh! 
[Chuckles] See, Ferrari built nothin’ but 
twelve-cylinder cars for years, and he still 
builds—well, all of his race cars are twelve 
cylinder. I like twelve cylinders—just the 
sound is good, and there’s engineering reasons 
that a twelve-cylinder engine is an excellent 
design. But I’ve just loved twelve-cylinder 
Ferraris since my first one, which was in ’58. 
They sell twelve-cylinder Ferraris in Europe, 
but they don’t import ’em over here because 
of the crash thing. And they’ve come out 
with an eight cylinder, which we sell. It’s an 
excellent car, go a hundred and fifty miles an 


William F. Harrah 

hour and everything; it’s a Ferrari— Ferrari 
quality, Ferrari design, Ferrari engineering. 
But to me it isn’t the kick that the—. 

So I have a twelve—I had a twelve cylinder 
I was driving, and then it was an illegal car and 
I got caught up with. And they just pull the car 
out, you know; they confiscate the car. So then 
I got another one recently, and I’m having it 
legalized right now in California, which by 
doing that, they’re putting in the crash things 
and the emission control, all that—things that 
are left off of’em in Europe. So I’m expecting 
that; I get a daily report on it. In fact, it’s— 
huh! [chuckles]—I’m so interested. Here it 
is in Kyle’s report—”No approval to date for 
the 400 automatic,” which is the first Ferrari 
I ever had with an automatic transmission, 
which doesn’t matter—I like the shift. But 
they’re workin on it in L.A., and everything’s 
approved—I think the bumpers aren’t legal 
yet. So we had to change the bumpers. There’s 
a fella that does it down there for a living—he 
modifies illegal cars into legal cars. So I should 
get it this month. And I just can’t wait! That’ll 
be my fun car. 

Their engines are so unbelievable, how 
good they are. And they’ve been building 
the same engine fundamentally since they 
started, and that’s the ’40s to the ’70s—that’s 
thirty years. Just it’s a little bigger, or it’s 
quite a bit bigger; the design’s exactly the 
same. And it’s the same engine they race. 
And that’s why they’re so good, you know. 
The race engines are almost identical with 
the passenger car engine. You know, you can 
turn ’em seventy-five hundred r.p.m., eight 
thousand, and things that you can’t even 
think of doin’ with most cars. And they last 
forever. They’re just so well made— just a 
super car. 

In fact, I’m goin to the factory the first 
of June again— I’ve been there several times. 
I love to go, just to see ’em building ’em and 

the engineering and all. And I stayed away— 
well, I’ve been there three times. And then 
the public relations man (or whatever) , 
Manicardi, was here last month, or recently; 
he doesn’t come around as often as we like. 
And he’s a brilliant man. He’s been with 
Ferrari—one of the few people that’s been 
with Ferrari since he started. And, of course, 
Manicardi speaks nine million languages. 
And I’ve known him since I’ve had Ferraris. 
We’re friends, I’d say. 

So he was here. And we had dinner and 
the whole thing, and visited, and he looked 
at our new place and da da da da da, and how 
many cars we’re gonna get this year—just very 
pleasant. And he said, “When are you cornin’ 
to the factory?” 

And I said, “Well, I don’t have any plans.” 

And he said, “Well, you should!” 

And I said, “Well—.” And Kyle, our 
manager goes every year. And I said, “Well, 
I don’t like—” I said, “I’d come every month, 
but,” I said, “I just don’t want to bug you.” 

And I can just picture—’’Harrah’s cornin’, 
and oh my God, we gotta take him to lunch, 
and we’re so busy today and—.” And Mr. 
Ferrari, who’s very important, and you get to 
meet Mr. Ferrari. 

And I thought, “Why, there’s a million 
things he’d rather do than meet me.” I can 
picture it at HAC, you know, and I’m not 
“anti-people.” But someone wants to write a 
letter—you know, “Mr. Harrah,” so and so, 
“and I’ve admired you,” and da da da. “I’m 
coming out sometime; could I get to say hello? 
And I want—” you know. 

And I—’’Sure, sure! Yeah, fine, why not?” 

And so it’s always when your desk is like 
this, and the phone’s ringin’, and so on, so on, 
and then they’ll say, “Well, Mr. So-and-so is 

I—’’Who’s that?” 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


So—’’Well, he wrote you, and you said you 
could see him.” 

And I say, “Today?” 

“Yeah, here’s his letter,” you know. 

So you gotta—you know, I know how it 

is. And they come in, and your mind isn’t on 

it, and it’s—so—. Maybe Mr. Ferrari’s better 
organized than I am (I don’t know)—hope so. 

But anyway, I said, “Okay, I’m cornin’ 

And he said, “Well, when?” 

And I said—which shows that he meant 
it. And I said, “Well, I’m gonna pick up my 
boy in Lugano on June first.” 

And he said, “Well, that’s perfect!” ’cause 
he said, “I’m gonna be there and Mr.—” (see, 
he traveled a lot). And he said, “Mr. Ferrari’s 
gonna be there,” or “II Commendatore,” and 
uh—(which is an Italian title kind of, which 
he uses, and he doesn’t use). But he said, 
“We’re both gonna be there, and so we have 
an appointment for June fifth, Monday.” 

And I said, “Well, can I bring my boy? He’s 
a car nut.” 

He said, “Bring him along!” 

So I’m goin’ back to the factory then. And 
John, of course, that’ll be his first time there. 
That’ll be a big thrill going to the Ferrari 

Also, Mr. Ferrari—I don’t know why 
he—I guess he likes me or something, or 
maybe it’s ego on my part—but I told you, 
the distributorship—and I’m sure you don’t 
give things away, but he took me for a ride 
one time—. He can’t speak English, and I can’t 
speak Italian, but we can communicate fine. 
And the new—it was a 1969; I have a picture 
of it; it was a new model, entirely new. I’d 
never even seen one (I’d read about it). And 
they had one there, and he took me for a ride 
in it. And just Mr. Ferrari and I—what a thrill 
that was! And he’s an old-time race driver, 

you know. And at that time, he was seventy 
years old—the next day. And so he drove me, 
and he just drove beautifully, just like an ex¬ 
race—just perfect, just zip zip zip zip zip zip 
[gestures wheel turning]. 

But every time I go, he visits with me and 
he does it so nice. And we have an interpreter 
there. “How’ve you been? How are things in 
Nevada,” da da da da da—. And he does it— 
which I learned something from him was, he 
does it as though he had the whole day. And 
you know damn well he’s got a hundred other 
things. But he’d just sit there, you know, and 
he’s so relaxed and da da da and, you know, 
da da da, and “Tell me more,” you know. And 
I’m sure that he just would rather do other 
things—you know—maybe the first three 
minutes, but after that I’m sure he’d rather do 
a million things than talk to me! So in fact, I 
have to tell myself—’cause I’m so intrigued, 
you know, and I’m always learnin’ somethin’ 
about the new model or somethin’—but I 
have to force myself to leave, you know. In 
fact, when I have someone—like I took Rome 
Andreotti one time ’cause he could interpret, 
you know, and he was along anyway, so it made 
it nice. And he got to see the factory. But I said, 
“Rome, kick me in the ankle after about—” 
and he did, you know. About ten minutes, I’m 
goin’ and Rome’ll go— [laughter]. 

Last time I was there was—and he 
might’ve just been feeling good. You said 
I’m too modest, but I know it wasn’t my 
personality. But instead of just siftin' in his 
office, he indicated he wanted to show me 
around. He took me through the factory, and 
of course, I’d been through the factory before. 
But he took me, and they had a new addition 
that he showed me, and we’re walkin’—and of 
course, what a thrill it was to walk through 
the factory with Mr. Ferrari because every 
workman there, you know, almost saluted 
when he walked by. 


William F. Harrah 

And so as I told you, Manicardi met me 
and all, and then Mr. Ferrari and I left. And 
he showed me through the factory, and he 
took me in the engine—where they test the 
engines, which I—Id been in there, but I’ll tell 
you about it. It’s very interesting in that every 
Ferrari engine is broken in before you get the 
car because—so you can take a Ferrari out and 
drive it a hundred and fifty miles and hour the 
day you get it. And they run ’em in, and they 
have—you go in, and it’s a soundproof place. 
You go in there—it’s terribly noisy. And they 
have individual closed—like maybe so by so 
[about six feet by four feet]. There’s a glass and 
a door, and you can look in (it’s a room); and 
there’s an engine that’s hooked up to power 
things, so it’s under power—under load. Just 
to run an engine free with no load, you’re 
not accomplishing anything; but under load 
it’s the same as breakin’ it in. So they run ’em 
for—well, enough hours, so they’re broken in. 
And there’ll be maybe ten, twelve engines in 
a row—[loudly] rrrrrrrr! And there’s gauges, 
you know, so this one has so many hours; that 
one has so many hour [s]. (I told earlier about 
the wind tunnel room.) 

course, I’m not gonna tell anybody about 
their designs. And of course, I’m like a little 
kid—there were maybe fifty of ’em—the old 
ones, which I knew, and then the newer ones. 
But he’s walkin’ through, and I can’t stop, you 
know, but I’m lookin’ [laughter] and wishin’ 
I had photographic brain so I could picture 
’cause there were some far-out designs there, 
which are top secret, of course. And I could 
see, you know, this is the ’78 Ferrari, and that 
is the ’80 Ferrari, and there’s the ’82 to ’3. That 
was a happy day! 

I took delivery at the factory one time, a 
Ferrari, too. That was a fun thing. I’d always 
wanted to do that, so I thought, “Well, I’ll 
do it.” It was the new model, which was very 
exciting. So I got there and went to the factory, 

and I didn’t know anybody then hardly. See, I 
was a dealer then; I wasn’t a distributor. That 
was ’61, ’62. And I got it—and of course, I can 
drive okay, but I was a little nervous about 
driving over there. I’d read all the manuals, 
you know, no speed limit; I loved that. So I 
thought, “Well, how am I going to do this?” 
There were several places I wanted to go over 
there. And I thought, “Well, I’ll just try it.” But 
it was a little tiny car. And my wife and I, we 
had a lot of luggage; no way could we do it. 

So we started from (where’d we start 
from?) Rome, and we hired a car and driver. 
We said, “We want a driver for five days to a 
week, a car, and we want a station wagon,” 
which are kinda scarce over there, but we got 
one. I think it was a Fiat, of course. That was 
a pretty good car. And we had this driver who 
we got to like, and he drove the station wagon 
with the luggage. And so then we worked it 
out, and it just worked slick. The towns are 
very confusing, and no way—like I tried to get 
through some towns, and I’d have a map. And 
you’d go, and you weren’t sure which street, 
and some streets didn’t have road signs. And 
then you’d stop, and you’d say, “Where is so- 

And they’d go, “Doobladada,” you know— 
just hopeless! 

So I did that, and it was just very 
frustrating. So I thought, “We’re doin’ this 
wrong.” And then I figured it out. And so 
I had this Italian-speaking fella, so here we 
come to a town, and he would drive through. 
And I’d follow him, and then we’d get on the 
edge and he would—knew all what I wanted. 
As soon as we got on the outskirts, then the 
road and the signs were fine; you couldn’t 
miss the road. So then I’d go down the road 
a hundred miles an hour, whatever I felt like 
driving, and we had a point we would meet. 
And maybe if it was lunch, why we’d meet, 
you know, and sometimes he’d be helpful 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


there, although that wasn’t as necessary, but 
it was good to keep in touch. And then when 
we’d come to a city— like we went to urn— 
what’s that big shipping port on the west of 

It’s big, like all the cars come out of there. 
It’s a big industrial—. But we went through 
there, and it was just absolutely impossible—I 
could still be there, ten years later. But I got 
behind him, and he just went zip zip zip zip 
zip zip. And we got to the edge, and away I 

So then I was heading for Monaco; I’d 
never been there, or I hadn’t been there in 
years. So we drove to Monaco, and that was 
a funny experience. We got there, and the 
Ferrari was—you know, eyes—boy, look at that 
car! It was a new model, and everybody’s real 
excited. So we drove up to the custom—when 
we left Italy, no problem. And then we came 
up to the border and to Monaco, principality 
of Monaco. And so the fellas, or two of ‘em 
came out, and they looked at the car, and they 
looked—or, “Open the hood,” so I opened the 
hood. And they wanted my papers, so I had 
the papers; I had Nevada plates on it. But I had 
the title; I had everything, you know. And they 
looked at ’em they looked at ’em, and, “Oooh,” 
they looked, and oh, they’re frowning and all 
and—(jabber, jabber)! 

And I said, “Well, I don’t know what— 
what are you talking about?” 

(Jabber) real excited, you know. 

And I remember my wife said, “Well, gee 
whiz,” you know, “boy!” 

And I said, “Well, cool it—we’ll do what 
we can.” 

And I actually thought there was somethin’ 
terrible wrong and they were gonna confiscate 
the car or something. It was just—yelling and, 
“Yah! Yah!” you know. 

So then he—I was ahead of him—so 
then he came up, you know. And he come 

walkin’ up, and he said, “What’s the matter, 
Mr. Harrah?” 

I said, “I don’t know!” I said, “I gave him 
the green ticket, and I gave him this, and I 
gave him my title and the numbers. And they 
looked at the motor number, and it’s the same 
as on here. I don’t know what the beef is.” 

So he said, “Well—.” So he took ’em, 
and he—(jabbers). And they kinda went in 
the office and—(jabbers), and I’m lookin’; 
you could see—it was glass, you know. 
(Jabbers) And then they’re laughin’ [imitates 
laughing]. And so he came out and he said, 
“We can go.” 

And I said, “Okay.” And I got in the car 
and very carefully started it, and I thought, 
“Hope so.” 

And we started out, and as I left the 
two fellas, they went like this [salutes), you 
know—’’Well, fine!” So I got down the road, 
and I don’t know if I stopped right away— I 
might’ve; but it wasn’t far to the hotel anyway, 
just a few hundred yards. I said, “What did 
you do? What, what, what, what?” 

And he said, “I gave ’em a dollar!” 
[Laughter] Or a thousand lire, whatever 
it was! And all we wanted was a little help 
[laughing]. That’s the way it is over there, 
especially, you know. And you hardly ever get 
turned down no matter who it is—. I actually 
thought for a minute, “I’m gonna lose this nice 
new car, my—!” 

Then we drove all over. We went into 
Switzerland in the car and we had a wonderful 
time. I haven’t done it since— love it over there; I 
love to drive over there, but it just— it isn’t worth 
it with the car behind and the whole thing. Now 
I just rent a car and a driver—sit back and enjoy 
it. I have one driver I use quite a bit, so—. 

Do you have any superstitions about cars? 



William F. Harrah 

Or some personal superstitions that are kind 
of acted out through your cars? 

No. Sorry [chuckles]. 

Or something that you think of as sort of 
folktales around cars, about the way some car 
came into being, or that some cars are “lucky” 
and some cars are “unlucky,” more than just 
safe or unsafe? 

Oh. They’re all lucky. I don’t think so. 
There are some fables and many of those— 
they’re just untrue, you know, like Henry Ford 
saying you can have a Ford Model T—he did 
say it. You can have any color you want as long 
as it’s black (that’s when they only made ’em 
black). And that was true, but that was just for 
a short time, ’cause the first Fords were (what) 
multicolor—1903, 1904, through 1913 or 
‘14—you could get colored Fords. They came 
in colors. Black was unusual, or none. Then 
about ‘ 15 they were all black till ’26, and then 
they were colors again. So it was just ten-year 
period that it was true. Some people—the way 
it was interpreted was that all Model T Fords, 
or all Fords, were black and they weren’t at all. 
A lot of pretty colors. 

But I don’t know. Sorry. 

Do you have some favorite advertising slogans, 
some of the things that you think sold more 
cars? Americas’ car ”—. 

Oh, I don’t know any slogans that actually 
sold any. It just had a slogan ’cause it’s the 
popular thing or customary thing to do. I 
think Chevrolet’s slogan for years when I was 
in Chevies was “Economical.” But that isn’t 
why I bought my Chevy [laughing], 

They used to have that thing about, “Watch 
the Fords go by.” 

Yeah. It doesn’t hurt anything, but I don’t 
think it sells any really. But you’re advertising, 
you gotta say somethin’. See, Ford didn’t 
advertise for years, you know. And things 
were goin’ good, and the Model T days, he 
didn’t advertise. Later they started. 

There’s a new book out on the history 
of Ford I just finished—really a wonderful 
one, best one I ever read. I read it on my trip 
over to Australia. And it starts with Henry, 
Sr. when he was an electrician engineer for 
the Detroit Power Company and right on up 
through today and Henry II (the second). It’s 
a behind-the-scenes kind of a story, and I can’t 
think of the name of it. 

It’s not flattering to Henry, and it’s not— 
see, many books on Henry Ford, Sr., he was 
just perfect; he did—and a lot of’em, of course, 
he engineered, and—. He was a genius, 
he was perfect, his life was perfect, and all 
that. And in this book it tells where he was 
perfect and where he wasn’t perfect; it’s very 
revealing there. And Edsel, it tells a lot about 
him and where he was perfect and where he 
wasn’t. And I knew Henry, Sr. was very tough 
on Edsel, although it was his only son and 
delighted with him and very proud of him; but 
still he dominated him just somethin’ terrible. 
Edsel couldn’t claim—and you know, there 
were millions of dollars—Edsel had millions 
of dollars in there, but he couldn’t call his, you 
know—just couldn’t make too good decisions; 
it was very pitiful. And that’s true. 

And then how the company and old 
Henry dominated it, and he was an old, over- 
the-hills guy, and the company was losin’ 
millions of dollars a month, you know. And 
then Edsel’s widow and I think Mrs. Ford, 
Sr. got together with Henry, and he was in 
his twenties (Henry, second [Henry II]), and 
by a coup took over the company and saved 
the company. The way it was goin’—Harry 
Bennett, Ford had hired years before as kind 

A Love Affair with Automobiles 


of a strikebreaker and a bodyguard, and it 
got where Harry Bennett was running the 
company, and just he totally dominated Ford 
for many years and just makin’ all kinds of 
terrible decisions. And if it had gone on that 
way, the Ford Motor Company would’ve gone 
bankrupt. Henry, Jr. [II] in his twenties took 
over, and here he is president of this. And then 
it tells how he—and he did—he’s no brilliant 
guy; he wasn’t very good in school, but he’s 
just a commonsense guy. And a few slogans 
he used in there that I’ve kept—like one I like 
very much is (oh let me get it right)—um—. 
Well, like he was recently caught driving in 
California with a lady that wasn’t his wife; he 
was drunk driving. That was within the last 
year, in northern California there somewhere 
around Pebble Beach or somethin’. And he 
was arrested by the highway patrol, and in 
the paper here it is—’’Henry Ford II arrested 
drunk driving with a twenty-three-year-old 
model,” da da da, and he’s married, you know. 
And you think, “Wow, what’s goin on?” It’s in 
the book. 

He says, “Whenever somethin’ like that 
happens,” he says, “and the press gets on ya 
(and all this),” he said (let me get it right, oh), 
“don’t explain, don’t complain.” [Laughter] 
Which, you know, we get, or we think we get a 
lot of criticism or some criticism in the press, 
and you know, “Oooh, why’d they say that?” 
And also, “Why—why—” you know. 

And the thing is—”No comment.” 

Write what you want. “Don’t explain. 
Don’t complain.” 

He’s done a super job—Henry Ford II. 
And it was tough, you know. Everybody 
shootin at him from another angle. 

Well, they’ve done a lot of good over the 
years. And Henry Ford, he did a lot of good, 
like he was the first man to—I think wages 
were two-sixty, and he paid everybody five 
dollars, when the going wage was two dollars 

and sixty cents. Things like that. But he did a 
lot of goofy things, too; like he had that peace 
ship to Europe, you know, which was—. You 
know, he was so successful, he got a big ego 
and was thinkin’ of runnin’ for president. 
Well, he did—he ran for senator in Michigan 
(I think) and just got beat by a few votes, and 
that hurt his pride. And then he decided on 
this peace ship. And he told the then president 
(I forget who it was); he won the cooperation 
of the government. And they told him, “That 
isn’t how we’re doin’ it. We’re workin’ hard, 
we’re—” you know. 

So then he did it on his own, and he got 
a few friends and celebrities—I think he got 
Edison in on it. But most of his friends just 
said, “Well, that’s dumb!” 

And he took this peace ship and went to 
Europe with it. And everybody got to Europe, 
and they just went, “What do you want?” You 
know—’’Get out of here!” 

So then when it was such a total failure, 
then he took some big transoceanic steamer 
home, you know—very quietly, and the peace 
ship kinda -stuck back and Henry Ford snuck 
back and you didn’t read any more about it! 
And it cost him millions. 

But it’s always interesting to me how 
people handle their money, like I know I do 
goofy things with mine sometimes, but, things 
he would do with his and be real cheap in this 
respect, and then, you know, real—you know, 
money didn’t matter in the other. 

Then one thing he did, it somebody did 
him a favor, he really liked it (like from a 
bellboy or somethin’), he’d give em a Ford, 
which isn’t thousands of dollars; in those 
days, at one time they retailed as low as two 
hundred and sixty dollars. Probably his was 
a hundred and some dollars—he was givin’ 
’em, you know. He did that quite often. 

All in all he was quite a guy—Henry Ford, 


William F. Harrah 

What do you think is in the future for the 
automobile industry now, with the problems 
of pollution and complaints about spoiling the 
environment with the freeways and—? 

Well, that just gets tougher all the time. 
Like, you know, casino business or whatever 
business you’re in gets tougher all the 
time. There’s more government and more 
restrictions, and you just do the best you 
can, that’s all. It’s just gonna get tougher and 
tougher, but I think twenty years from now 
we’ll be still driving internal combustion; 
there’ll be some electric and all that, but it’s 
such a super design, so cheap to build and so 
efficient, and they can get all the pollution 
out of it just up to, you know, ninety percent, 
which is quite reasonable. So I think they’ll 
be smaller and lighter, and then they’ll change 
the looks every once in a while so you get 
interested, you know. 

If you take care of a car—any car today—if 
you take proper care of it, it’s good for sixty 
to a hundred thousand miles with no trouble 
at all. And so that’s ten to twenty years for 
most people. So they’re not cornin’ back to 
the market too often. My point was, maybe 
you would normally come back in ten years. 
But if they make one that’s kinda super 
pretty, you might come back in eight years 
(or something). They don’t change the design 
to please themselves; they do it to sell cars, 
which works pretty good, too. Especially like 
that ’64 Mustang, you know, that was just a 
revolutionary car. It was just a car whose time 
was now. And of course, the Edsel—wasn’t 
anything wrong with an Edsel except its time 
was wrong. There’s two good examples: the 
Mustang was just a tremendous success, and 
Edsel was a tremendous failure. I wouldn’t 
criticize either one. 

The Collector of 
Antique Cars 

Now in antique cars, you want to start 
right at the— where? 

The beginning of your interest in antique cars. 
Why antique cars instead of antique bedsteads 
or something like that, you know? 

Yeah, I was always interested in cars from 
the time I was a little tiny boy Didn’t I tell you 
about the hubcaps and radiator, nameplates 
and things? Why I was always interested, I 
was alone a lot because my father worked, 
and where we lived it was very isolated—on 
South Beach—we were about the only house 
down there. Our only neighbors were a widow 
and a daughter about my age and her mother 
(the three of’em). They didn’t even have a car 
’cause there was a streetcar there. And we had 
cars, and that was it. And so my knowledge of 
cars, or whenever a car would stop or we’d be 
downtown, I’d look at all of ’em, and—kinda 
self-taught. There’s a car I didn’t know (of 
course, I knew Fords and things)—but a car I 
didn’t know, then I’d go look at the hubcap or 
the radiator, and then I would—just I didn’t 

try to memorize it; it just was embellished in 
my mind. 

And I have one funny story—well, I have 
a bunch of ’em, but one I like is the Isotta 
Fraschini is a very famous Swiss car—oh, wait, 
it isn’t Swiss; it’s—what the heck is it? I better 
find that out. It’s like a Rolls Royce, but then 
we have several of ’em. But the nameplate is 
a big “IF.” And it impressed me when I saw 
it, and down in Venice we didn’t get many 
foreign cars. I remember Rolls Royces, the 
big thrill down there, because it just wasn’t 
that kind of neighborhood where those kind 
of cars showed up. But this Isotta came down 
there one time, and I saw it, and my father 
came home that night, and I couldn’t wait 
to ask him. I said, “I saw a new car today, an 
‘if’!” [Laughs] course, he knew a lot about 
American cars, but he didn’t know much 
about European cars, so he was in the dark 
as much as I was. 

But another story I like to tell on that 
was I did memorize these cars; I loved it. 
And I had an uncle, Rod Burnham, who was 
married to my aunt, Isabelle, and they were 


William F. Harrah 

very close—my aunt and Rod and my father 
and mother, and they palled around together 
a lot—real good friends, and so we saw a lot 
of ’em. And Rod knew a lot about cars, and 
he always had an interesting car, kind of a 
sporty car. And he knew a lot about cars, 
but sometimes he was a little blowhard—not 
too much, but just a little. And my father 
discovered I had so much knowledge, so one 
time we were goin’ somewhere—Rod and my 
father and I, just the three of us in the car. And 
so my father started this game; he said, “Hey, 
I know. Bill, you know cars pretty good, and 
Rod, you know em real good. Let’s play a little 
game here and see who can name the most” 
[laughing]. And of course, I won it hands 
down, and my uncle, he was a good guy, really. 
He was amazed, and also he was a good loser. 
And of course, my father was just tickled to 
death that I beat ’im ’cause we really got into 
some—you know, the Fords and Chevies and 
all were easy, but then we got into some kinda 
rare ones. I knew all of’em, just about. 

So anyway, that’s how it started, and then 
I couldn’t wait to—. I would love cars; I was 
around cars, and I drove my first car when I 
was—well, my father taught me to drive when 
I was eight, I think, which was nice of him. 
We went to Big Bear Lake a lot, and there was 
nobody up there, so we could do anything. 
And then he left the Hudson—did you hear 
the Hudson story (see Chapter 1)? 

So I drove that around, and I was only 
eight then. I drove it all around Big Bear. And 
so I drove, and my father was wonderful at 
lettin me drive—just wherever it made sense, 
where it didn’t hurt anything. And so I drove 
a car quite a bit. 

Then when I was—the law in California 
then was fourteen years old to get a driver’s 
license. And of course, I wanted one so bad 
I could almost die. And so I was twelve, I 
think, and I asked my father if I could have a 

driver’s license. And much to my surprise, he 
said, “Sure!” And of course, he had to falsify 
on the application; but being a lawyer, why, he 
knew exactly how to do it. And he didn’t swear 
to it; he just signed it somehow, so it left him 
free ‘n’ clear. I was a little concerned—I was 
very proud of my driver’s license, but I was a 
little concerned that I might get in trouble. 
And someone found out about it from one 
of the family, and they said, “Gee, aren’t you 

And he said, “No, no, no,” and then he had 
this example that I was also—in law school 
one time, of a similar situation, that a young 
girl was—she was underage, and I don’t know 
whether she had a driver’s license or not, but 
was driving a car, and there was an accident. 
Someone was injured, and the prosecution 
claimed that because she was underage, 
why, was the whole problem. Her defense 
attorney—and the judge went along— was 
her age had absolutely nothing to do with the 
accident; the question was, was she drivin’ the 
car properly or not? And it was shown that 
she was driving properly, so they exonerated 
her in any liabilities. And that was made clear 
to me. So anyway, I was the only kid around 
with a driver’s license. I sure took advantage 
of it. 

But the interest in the antiques, in collecting 
them, actually, is it a financial ability to be able 
to collect these things, or is it something that 
you just had to do? 

Well, it’s a combination. I was always 
interested in the cars. Of course, as I got 
older and the Model T Fords, they became 
antiques. When I was a little kid, they were 
the new thing you bought and drove. But 
they were cars, and I liked them, course. 
And I really didn’t know there was an antique 
car society, or that there were collectors of 

The Collector of Antique Cars 


antique cars cause where I lived, that just 
was nonexistent. And then as I got older 
and I was in my twenties and maybe early 
thirties, I didn’t know it. I remember seem’ 
a picture in The LA Times of a friend of 
mine, Dick Teague, who’s a car collector, and 
I’ve known him forever. He’s now the stylist 
for American Motors—a real good friend. 
But there was a picture of him and a 1906 
Cadillac in the LA Times, and I thought, 
“Gee, look at that old Cadillac! i didn’t know 
there was anything that old existed.” And I 
thought, “Gee, it’d be fun to have something 
like that.” And I didn’t pay any attention. 
I mean, an old car to me was a big rarity; 
whenever I saw one, I couldn’t believe it. 
And hardly ever saw one; it was just almost 
like Fate lettin’ me not to see ’em yet ’cause I 
just didn’t see any antique cars. I would’a bet 
there weren’t fifty in the country, and what 
were, were just in museums. 

Then this friend of mine, this Freddie 
Vogel, had a brother Johnny Vogel, who 
had acquired a 1911 Ford and a 1911 
Maxwell. And when I used to visit Freddie 
in Hollywood (and Freddie had a garage 
down there—service station), then I used to 
hang around in this. I think the Ford and the 
Maxwell were there, and they were tinkering 
with them, and I was very interested. And 
Johnny was kind of a—(what’s the word?) 
kind of scatterbrained, kind of go-go-go 
kind of a guy. And Freddie, who was the 
younger brother, was quite conservative. 
Johnny was the go-guy, and Freddie was 
more stable, although Johnny was a good guy. 
And Johnny loved cars, but he was kind of 
carefree, careless; and I preached to him, as I 
was older—I preached to both boys. I was a 
good friend about driving and car safety and 
good tires and don’t ride in convertibles and 
all, because you might roll over, you know, at 
high speed. 

So anyway, Johnny, who was a real good 
friend, and he had become a good friend, he 
came up here a lot, and he was havin’ troubles 
with the Army, and he was single and they 
were drafting, and he was workin’ around 
tryin to get out of it, but he really couldn’t. 
And anyway, he was down in L.A., and he 
was cornin’ to Reno, and he just took off the 
spur of the moment, which is the way he did 
things. He had a big dog. And in a Lincoln 
Continental convertible, he was driving up 
395 at ninety miles an hour, whatever, and 
he blew a rear tire. He was in the used car 
business. I think it was one of the cars on his 
lot or something, but he hadn’t checked the 
tires, and it was a faulty tire—it was a worn- 
out tire. And he blew it, anyway, it rolled the 
car. And of course, a convertible—you can 
get killed real easy. I don’t know if it threw 
him out and it landed on him or what, but it 
killed him and the dog both, which was a big 
tragedy ’cause he was still in his twenties and 
had everything to live for. I can still remember 
his funeral; it was such a sad thing. And of 
course, I was there, but all of his friends—I 
was maybe the oldest young person there. I 
mean his mother was there, of course, but I 
was five years older, maybe more. And still all 
these twenty-year-old kids, and here Johnny’s 
dead. Boy, it was real sad. 

Anyway, that left the Ford and the 
Maxwell, and Freddie Vogel had no interest 
in them. And I did. And they were old cars, 
and I thought, “Gee, they’d be nice.” And it 
was kinda funny. By then I knew a little about 
the cars, and it was kinda real funny. It was 
Mrs. Vogel, who was just one of the sweetest 
ladies in the whole world and a very generous 
lady. [Consults book] But anyway, on this 
Maxwell—yeah, two thousand dollars. It was 
worth about a thousand, so I thought— you 
know—and I didn’t want to—I loved her. She’d 
done so many nice things for me. And so I 


William F. Harrah 

wanted to buy the Maxwell, and it was worth 
around a thousand. After the funeral and all 
and things had settled down a little, either she 
called me or somehow and we’re talking, and 
she said, “Bill, Johnny wanted you to have the 
Maxwell and Ford, if you wanted them.” 

And I said, “Well, that’s fine, Mrs. Vogel, 
but I don’t want ’em as a gift; I would like to 
buy them.” 

And she said, “Well, that’s what I really 
meant. You can buy them.” 

And I said, “Well, that’s fine. How much?” 

And she said, “Well, Johnny has let me 
see—” and she dug out a letter. She said 
Johnny was always valuing everything real 
high. So he had the Maxwell down at two 
thousand dollars, and I was kinda proud of 
myself’cause it wasn’t the time to bargain. She 
said, “Is that all right?” 

And I said, “Oh, that’s fine.” And I paid 
two thousand. Let me see how much the Ford 
was, ’cause it wasn’t worth as much. Fifteen 
hundred for the Ford. 

That was for the first two, and I got them. 
Maxwell was the more interesting car ’cause 
there was fewer Maxwells, a lot of Model Ts. 
So we restored the Maxwell. By we, I had a 
mechanic that worked on my cars and worked 
on other things for me and—pretty good 
mechanic. And we made a terrible mistake in 
doing it, as an antique car should be restored 
authentically as the way it was. A 1911 
Maxwell should be restored the way a 1911 
Maxwell was. But I didn’t recognize that at the 
time, and not knowing anybody, I was all on 
my own. And as I hopped up about every car 
I owned, I hopped up the Maxwell or—Jimmy 
Guller was the mechanic, and I—and we really 
hopped it up, so it would go. And then the 
exterior, we restored it, but we did it wrong 
because we had no original— which got me 
into libraries. If I’d had the original catalog, 
I would have restored it the way it should 

look; but I just restored it the way I got it, and 
it had many mistakes in it. So that’s the way 
it was. And in fact, in the museum now, we 
have this Maxwell as it was, which has many 
things wrong with it. And then right beside 
it we have one that’s correct and then a little 
sign explaining that the first car we didn’t 
know any better, and we restored it wrong; 
and then this is what it should’ve looked like. 

I went on my first tour (I think that 
was ’47), and I showed up in L.A. with my 
Maxwell. I didn’t know anybody. Well, I found 
an application to the Horseless Carriage Club 
in the papers that I got with the Maxwell. So I 
joined the Horseless Carriage Club, and then 
I was real excited. They had this magazine, 
and there were other collectors—oh, that was 
wonderful—and then they had a tour coming 
up, so I sent in my application to the tour. It 
was, I remember, from Los Angeles to San 
Diego. So I sent in my tour, and I showed up 
with a Maxwell, and, didn’t know anybody. It 
was almost like the first day of school; I was 
kinda scared. Fortunately, first person I met 
was—I put my car in a garage in downtown 
L.A., and an old-timer came in with an old 
car. Doc [George] Shafer was his name, who 
I knew for many years. He had quite a few 
cars, and he was a real old-timer in the club. 
Fact, when he died, I got most of his cars. But 
old Doc was the kind of blowhard type. He 
misdated everything on purpose. But he came 
in. I got quite an education just listening to 
him for a couple of hours. That was the night 
before the tour. 

Then the day of the tour I showed up, 
and there were a lot of other cars, I was real 
excited, and got started out. In fact, I was so 
excited I didn’t really drive the Maxwell the 
way I should have. And then I finally figured 
out what I was doing wrong, and then I got 
along fine. Mine was a very little car, and there 
were some big cars, so they all got way ahead. 

The Collector of Antique Cars 


I remember (huh!) [chuckles] the lunch stop 
was in Long Beach, and I got there just as they 
were all leaving [laughing], but I didn’t let it 
bother me too much. We had a little trouble, 
but this mechanic I had was pretty good— 
Jimmy We worked on it and fixed it. 

But anyway, I think our second stop was at 
Oceanside, and that’s where I met Bud Catlett. 
He was a real old-timer in the club. He was a 
policeman in Sacramento. He loved old cars. 
Ill never forget, he came up to me, and he 
was so polite, and, “Mr. Harrah, I’m Bud 
Catlett. How do you do?” And he looked at the 
Maxwell, and instead of sayin’, “This is wrong, 
and the radiator’s wrong, and the upholstery’s 
wrong, and the fenders are wrong,” and not 
even talkin’ about the hop-up part, he said, 
“Gee, that’s a nice car,” which it was. It was 
real shiny. And then he asked me about the 
radiator. He said, “Is this the right radiator?” 

And I said, “Well, gee, I don’t know.” 

And he said, “Well, I thought”—he didn’t 
say—which was a fact, because it had a early— 
it was—. The early Maxwells used this type 
of radiator, so because of the radiator, I had 
dated it as a 1907, and it was really a 1911. So 
he said, “This 1907,” he said, “how did you—” 
only he’s real polite. He said, “Is this a 1907?” 
which was about a million things to prove it 
isn’t. He said, “Why did you think—?” 

I said, “Well, the radiator.” 

And he said, “Well, yes, that is. That’s an 
early radiator.” But he said, “I think—” and 
he didn’t always— he wasn’t positive. He 
said, “I think the early ones had semi-elliptic 
springs, and yours has full elliptic.” And he 
said, “I think the early ones have—” so on, so 
on, so on, so on. And he pointed out all these 
things, and I was a little defensive. I didn’t like 
anybody telling me my 1907 car was a 1911 
car ’cause older was better (at least I thought 
it was). So I was a little defensive, but Bud was 
so nice. 

Then, as the tour went along and I had 
trouble and Bud helped out, and we got to 
be pretty good friends, just on the tour. So 
then when I got home and I really researched 
the car, and I found that he was absolutely 
right and I was as wrong as could be. And in 
the meantime, we were corresponding and 
talking and visiting back and forth, and I’ve 
never forgotten how polite he was ’cause he 
could’ve come up and said, “Dummy, this 
is—” da da da da. But he was so nice. 

So we became real close friends, and we 
used to laugh about it because me and my 
wife and he and his wife visited back and 
forth, and they’d come up here and we’d go 
visit them, and we’d go on trips together, and 
we just became very close friends. And here 
he was a policeman in Sacramento, and I was 
a casino operator in Reno; you just couldn’t 
imagine two people that would have less in 
common, but the cards just bounced together. 
And we’re still friends. 

He worked for me for many years when he 
retired from the police force, and he was up 
here as my car buyer for ten or twelve years, 
maybe longer. And then he retired from that 
(he had some money), but still, we keep him 
on a retainer as an expert; on special jobs, we 
want somebody to go look at somethin’—he 
loves to travel—so he’ll go look at somethin’ for 
us. And then the fact we’re going on a tour in 
Australia in April, I’m taking a car, and some 
friends of mine from Cleveland are taking a 
car, and Bud Catlett is going to borrow a car 
down there. He and another fella and their 
wives are gonna borrow a car in Australia. So 
they were goin over and they were talkin’, so 
we’re taking our own plane over, and I invited 
Bud and his friend to ride with us, which 
they’re going to do. And then we’ll be on the 
tour together, of course. Just fun. 

I bet he loved that job. 


William F. Harrah 

Yeah, he did, and he’s real good at it. And 
he’s bought cars—I’ve bought a lot of cars you 
couldn’t buy just by my approach, but Bud—I 
learned a lot of that from Bud. Bud has bought 
cars, many, many cars, that just, no way you 
could buy. People have tried and tried. And 
Bud is nice, and he has a big grin; he’s a real 
sincere person, and he just goes in with lots 
of time. 

And one of my favorites was, I think he got 
three cars— either New York or New Jersey; it 
was New York area, and the man that owned 
’em was a policeman on the, I think, New 
York police force. I think he was a detective. 
We’d heard of the cars he had for years, but he 
wouldn’t—anybody get around there, he’d just 
say, “Get out of here,” you know. New Jersey. 
Paddy Boyle was his—. He had these cars, 
and so I’d heard—there’s Pope-Hartfords— 
we have quite a few of them. And they’re 
all four-cylinder, but they made a very few 
six-cylinder Popes. And so we’d heard of this 
one, this one in L.A. which was untouchable, 
and we’d heard of this one that Paddy Boyle 
had. That’s the reason that we wanted to get 
it, which everybody said, “He won’t even talk 
to you, let alone—.” 

So Bud went and looked up his place and 
went there and rang the bell, and rang it and 
rang it. Finally Paddy cane to the door and 
said something like—and Bud said, “Paddy 
Boyle,” and before he could even say, “I’m 
Bud Catlett,” or anything, the guy says, “Get 
the hell—what do you want?” 

He said, “Well, I wanted your old car—.” 

He said, “Get the hell out of here!” or 
words to that effect. And he’d opened the door 
about a crack, and Bud didn’t put his foot in it, 
but he’s tryin to talk through the crack. Real 
negative. So the door was just about closed, 
so Bud at a last ditch effort said, “I understand 
you’re a retired policeman.” 

And Paddy said, “Well—so what?” 

And Bud said, “I’m a retired policeman!” 

And the door opened just a little— 

“Sacramento.” And Bud had the, you 
know, credentials. “I was a so-and-so, so-and- 
so, twenty-three years,” da da da. 

And Paddy said, “Oh, were you? Really? 
Ah! Well, come in a minute.” And of course, 
Bud knew all the things to say, then; he got a 
look at it. And it wasn’t for sale, but Bud just 
kept workin, and then we got it. Within a year 
we got it. 

But then Paddy liked Bud very much, and 
he had many other cars. And we got other cars 
just like open the trickle and then the dam, 
you know, and here they came, just—. And 
they weren’t cheap, but they weren’t high; they 
were just market, which was fine because they 
were all rare stuff. 

That’s interesting that a retired policeman 
should be one of these important collectors. 
Nowadays you wouldn’t find that kind of 
person collecting them, would you? 

Well, no, because then—see, Bud was 
in it long before I was. And he tells many 
stories, you know, like the car that he turned 
down, they wanted fifty dollars and he offered 
twenty-five. Now the car’s worth five thousand 
dollars. And of course, I tell jokes on him. He 
had a Mercer that I bought from him, a 1917 
Mercer, and it—Sporting is the model. But 
then Mercers are always desirable; they’re a 
wonderful car. But this was rare because it had 
very few miles, like three or four thousand 
miles. It was like a brand-new car. So Bud and 
I—and he’d come up here, and I’d—he didn’t 
drink very well, and I drank pretty good, so I 
tried to get him drunk. He watched it pretty 
careful, but we had some good times. But I 
remember on the Mercer—and I kept him out 
real late. And so he wanted—oh, let me look 

The Collector of Antique Cars 


that up. Let me get that right. Well, I think he 
asked seven-fifty. 

And I said, “Ehhh, that’s too much.” And 
I said, “I’ll give you five hundred.” 

And Bud said, “Oh, poohy!” And then he 
said, “Well, how ’bout six-fifty?” 

And I said, “No, no, no, no, no!” And I 
always liked to gamble, flip a coin, ’cause we 
were kind of at (a] dead end there. So I said, 
“Okay, I’ll match you six-fifty or five hundred.” 
So Bud won. So I paid him six-fifty. So the car 
today is worth eight, ten thousand, maybe 
twelve, fifteen, possibly. And I still—when it’s 
fun, like when we’re at a party or somethin’, 
we’ll talk old times, and I’ll say, “Remember, 
Bud [laughing], when you beat me out of— 
made me pay six-fifty?” [Laughing] 

There was another one, a Pope-Hartford; 
he had a PopeHartford, and that was the first 
one—I just loved PopeHartfords from the 
time I was a little kid. And there were some 
in the [Horseless Carriage] Club, and when I 
got—and I thought, “Gee, I’ll never own one 
of those.” And Bud had one, and I just—oooh, 
I wanted that so bad! So got him up on the 
same story, and we’re out and drinkin’ and all, 
and I kept him up all night. Finally I bought 
the Pope-Hartford for fifteen hundred dollars. 
I think he thought at the time— you know, 
I think the way I got it was I just offered so 
much money, he couldn’t turn it down. Of 
course, that car today is—well, I still have it, of 
course, and it’s worth, oh, auction, that would 
bring twenty-five thousand dollars today. But 
he’s not the kind of guy that looks back at all. 
You know, he’s—and he always has cars. 

When he retired he moved to Minden, 
and I didn’t understand it for some time 
’cause it’s so tar and his interests are here. But 
he bought a little piece of land down there 
and built—he’s fail real handy guy; he can 
do anything. He built this house by himself, 
and it’s a cute little house, and his wife of all 

these years—they had one child who’s grown 
and long gone—and they just get along 
super. In fact, he’s always been into cars, and 
motorcycles, of course, being [a] motorcycle 
cop. And he used to ride one, and I didn’t 
know them then, but he and Bernice for 
one vacation, they rode their motorcycle to 
Miami, Florida and back, if you can imagine, 
and just got along fine! [Laughs] To each his 

It was so funny, one time—we used to 
travel a lot, too. We’d go lookin’ at cars here 
and there. And I was always a fast driver, but 
I’d get tickets. And Bud drove just as fast as I 
did or faster (and we always took my car ’cause 
I always had a real, good car), and he’d drive 
ninety (and California was sixty miles an hour 
then, I think) and he’d never get stopped. And 
I just couldn’t understand it. I thought he had 
a secret thing. For years, I thought he was— 
some way he held, his head or something. But 
he was just lucky, ’cause finally one time we 
were on a tour [of] United States or a lot of 
western United States (this was in ’53,1 think, 
in a Chrysler of mine). 

We visited all the Horseless Carriage 
Clubs; they’re called regional groups, and 
they’re individual. We had a president in the 
national Horseless Carriage Club that’d been 
in there for nine years or somethin’. And he 
had a board of directors; unfortunately, he got 
me on the board, and I discovered what was 
goin on. But he had some figureheads on the 
board—I think there were nine of ’em—and 
they just reelected him, and a lot of’em weren’t 
even car people; they were just friends. And he 
was one of those fellas that like to run things, 
so he was the perpetual president. 

Well, when I got into it, I could see what a 
mess it was. So I talked to Bud on it, and he’d 
seen it for years, and then another fella who 
lives here in Reno, Harry Johnson, a Horseless 
Carriage fella who then lived in Long Beach, 


William F. Harrah 

the three of us got to talkin’ and more of us in 
the Horseless— and we got to get rid of this 
guy, and how we gonna do it? And there’s a 
board of directors election every year, and 
there were staggered terms, I think. 

But anyway, I wrote letters to all the 
members, and then Bud and I and Harry 
Johnson visited all these regional groups and 
made speeches against Bothwell—Lindley 
Bothwell was his name. And fact, some places 
where Bothwell was very popular we’d go in 
and we’d be insulted—almost run us out of 
the place. “Get outa here, you bums!” course, 
because I was in the gambling business, they’d 
use that a little bit. We kept at it, and then 
they had the election and we beat him hands 
down. We just put in all of our people and 
turned the club around. And since then, it’s 
been good. People’ll be in for a president one 
year, two years; then they have another one, 
another, another, so it was a good thing. But 
anyway, we went all over the country. What 
direction now? 

How did you decide to go public with the 
Collection and to open it up, to make a museum 
of it? 

Oh, I see, yeah. Well, that was—you have 
the two cars, then the tour cars, and all I can 
tell you the cars as they came, but—real fast. 
And as my money came in, I was makin’ 
money, so I could afford to buy a car here 
and there. And I bought a Duesenberg, and I 
bought this and that. I lived on South Virginia 
then, and I remember I had a backyard there 
and I think I had at one time eight or ten 
cars out there. And they worried me. Then 
I moved, and I had to move them. So then I 
started renting vacant buildings around. And 
pretty soon there were twenty and then fifty, 
and—”Oh, there’s a car I want,” and I had the 
money; I’d buy it. And what are you gonna 

do with them? And, you know, eventually 
you take a look, and well, what can I—you 
know—what are you gonna do with a hundred 
cars? But you can get there real fast when you 
have the money and the interest. So I thought, 
“Well, gee, I should have a museum; I should 
have ’em in a building.” So I had some of ’em 
in a building, and then as I met other people— 
you know, by then I knew a lot of collectors. 
And they’d come to Reno—”Oh, I want to see 
your cars—.” 

“Oh, tine.” So then I’d take ’em, and I’d 
have a whole bunch of keys in my pocket and 
we’d go here, and here’s eight; and then we’d 
drive over here, and here’d be twelve; and then 
we go over here, and here’s four more—and 
drive all over Reno to do that. And then I 
thought, “Gee, they should all be in one place.” 
So by then we had some on Lake Street over 
here—maybe thirty or so—and that wasn’t 
room. So then I thought, gee, I had maybe a 
hundred by then. And then the place in Sparks 
was vacant. 

Oh, I had ’em up on the hill up here for 
a while—that old building up there. What’s 
that—you go up beyond the college? It was 
built as a storage building. It’s real— it’s a two- 
story thing, and we since sold it. But that was 
there, and I forget the name of the street up 
there. But you go right by the University, right 
at the top of the hill, and turn right and go a 
block, and turn left. And it was made out of old 
railroad ties—very well-built building. And it 
became available. I rented it for a while, and 
then I bought it. But it had two floors. So then 
I started puttin’ the cars in there. And by then, 
we did want to show them, so then we looked 
around and found the old ice warehouse in 
Sparks; nobody was usin’ it for anything. And 
that fit our thing pretty good, and Dermody 
had it, and the rent was quite reasonable. 

So we moved in out there, and we kept 
the building on the hill for our junkers and 

The Collector of Antique Cars 


our parts, and just disposed of it a few years 
ago. And moved out to Sparks, and that 
was— I remember we signed a year lease 
’cause that’s all the time I was qoin’ to stay 
there. I think we’ve been there fifteen years 
or so. But Dermody’s a good guy. We always 
just— another year, and he doesn’t raise the 
rent any, although he gets paid pretty good. 
But then he’s built more buildings for us, and 
more buildings and more buildings and more 
buildings, on and on and on and on and on. 

Would you like to trace the evolution of that 
into having a whole crew and a library for 
research and a really distinguished kind of 

Well, the library goes hand in hand with 
it. As you want to restore a car—and most 
of ’em, I’d say ninety-five percent of the cars 
you get have been altered in one way or the 
other, and I’ve altered many myself, so I can’t 
criticize. But you want to restore it to the 
way it was when it was new. And I collected 
literature just because I liked the literature; 
it’s fun to read about ’em. So whenever I 
could buy an old catalog, I bought it, even 
before I think I had the Maxwell. And then 
when we got into it in the cars and literature 
became available, I bought it, and I bought 
it real heavy whenever—’cause I knew there 
was only so much of an original literature. So 
fortunately, I really went out on it. So now I 
would say we have possibly the second best 
automotive library in the world that I know of. 
There may be others, but I mean overall—of 
course, primarily American. But there is one, 
the Detroit, which quite properly, that’s a good 
one. Unfortunately, they haven’t done much 
with theirs. They just accumulated the stuff 
over the years, and it’s just piled up, where 
over the years, because of our use and interests 
and being able to afford it, we’ve cataloged it 

and just kept goin’ and goin’ and. Goin’ and 
goin’, and we’re always updating and updating. 
It we have the material on a car, like we can 
do it on the phone—I’ll discover a car that I 
never heard of, and I can call the library on 
the phone and get the right guy and say, “Give 
me what you have on a so-and-so, so-and-so.” 

And within a minute, he’ll be—’’Well, it’s 
a such-and-such and the bore and stroke and 
the wheel base—” and da da da da da da da. 

So our library—for years before we got 
into it—in fact, I had one lady out there 
cataloging for about ten years. She finally died. 
She did it all by hand, but she did a super job. 
She was one of those people that worked fast, 
and you didn’t have to watch her; she’d give 
you your full eight hours. And she did it, and. 
I don’t think I ever found a mistake that she’d 
made in all that—. And her work is still there; 
you can find her handwriting and all. It was so 
wonderful then to—’cause for years, you think 
[clicks fingers], “Gee, I remember I’ve read 
that,” and you get this and you go through it. 
And that one you’d go through it, and “Where 
did I see that article on the 1914 American 
Underslung?” You know, I’d look and look and 
spend hours, which, of course, you know as 
much about that as I do. But now we’re in such 
wonderful shape, and we’re getting even more 
sophisticated all the time. I don’t go up there 
much any more cause I just say, “Hey, I want 
somethin’ on a so-and-so,” and I get it right 
away. But then occasionally I do go up, and 
I’m amazed at how things have been changin’ 
around. They’re just realty movin’. And they’re 
talkin’ about goin into microfilming all that 

Well, they’re talkin’ about microfilming 
the catalogs. And I said, “Well, how does that 
make sense? You got the original catalog— 
what can be better than that?” And the big 
thing is the speed. They say with a microfilm, 
you want this, you look it up, and here it is— 


William F. Harrah 

the 1908 so-and-so on page 73. But by doing 
this [gesture] with the microfilm, there it is 
right in front of you without gettin the catalog 
and all this. It’s just, you know—just like that, 
so—I don’t know, maybe it’s good. I’d love to 
have the original catalog. 

Oh, that library and the restoration—that 
was just trial and error thing. We started, 
we had one mechanic, and then we got an 
upholsterer, and we got a painter, and we got 
another mechanic and a body man and a— 
and there’s so many—you need machinists 
and so on. And they just grew—it was no plan 
on Lt—by trial and error. 

Then we’ve been limited on our budget. 
We can only spend so much money there. 
But we’ve never had as many as we’d like to 
have. But it’s been, I’d say, fair. I would have 
liked to have maybe double what we’ve had in 
mechanics and in painters and woodworkers, 
but you can only do so much. But it’s selective, 
and we find many of’em—I’d say today maybe 
we have, oh, maybe seventy people actually 
work on the car— I think there’s a crew of a 
hundred and fifty out there, but there’s janitors 
and there’s guides and librarians and so on, 
and secretaries and guards. 

So say, maybe seventy-five actually work 
on the cars. But of the seventy-five, I’d say, one 
time sixty-five of ’em were antique car buffs, 
and today, I’d say maybe thirty or forty are— 
maybe don’t have any but like the old cars and 
would rather work on a 1911 Pope-Hartford 
than the 1977 Cadillac. Just they like that car, 
they like that kind of work. Also the beauty 
of that kind of work is, like as a mechanic, we 
put one man on a car—or he may have two 
cars—and he’ll be the chief mechanic. And 
he will tear the car down, and when he needs 
any help to lift, why, there’ll be somebody to 
help him. But then the way we’re set up makes 
it so nice against a person doin’ it all himself, 
because like he’ll get down to the frame and 

he wants it sandblasted, which is, you know, 
an old rusty frame, so you just send it out 
there, and we have a man does sandblasting. 
And so that comes back, and then maybe it 
needs a little welding; well, he may do that 
welding. And then the engine work—he’ll 
probably do the engine, but when it gets to 
machining a part, why, we have machinists 
there. And when it gets to the assembly, he 
will assemble; painting, we have a painting 
department. And the wheels are probably 
broken or—usually the wooden wheels are 
bad, and we have a wood department; they 
make wheels. We can even make bodies if 
necessary. And then upholstery, we do that. 
So he just will be the head fella; but he’ll get it 
up to here, then it goes to the upholstery, then 
it goes to painting and all. And then he road 
tests it and so on, and eventually, then I drive 
it, and if it’s okay, why, in it goes to museum, 
and he’ll start on another one. Usually he’ll 
have two so that, you get held up even with 
an arrangement like that, you’re waiting for 
the so-and-so, so then he can be working on 
this car here, so he isn’t at a loss what to do. 
So that works pretty good. And then it’s happy 
day when the car’s driven and accepted, and 
he goes on to somethin’ else and does it all 
over again. 

You get to have a lot of fun with them, too. 

Yeah. And then I get to pick which ones 
we’re gonna restore. And I change my mind 
all the time, ’cause I like that one, then there’s 
this one we just got. My previous manager, 
a Ray Jesch, who is going to Australia with 
Bud Catlett—. We’re good friends. But he was 
the manager one time, and so I was walkin’ 
through one of their shops, and I saw this car; 
and it’d been sittin’ there for, oh, six or eight 
years. And “Ray!” I said, “That car has been—” 
(I could remember the date—maybe five—). 

The Collector of Antique Cars 


I said, “That’s been sittin there for five years! 
When the hell are we gonna get it finished?” 

And he said, “Well, when I took this job,” 
he said, “that car was third in line.” (And I 
thought, well, we’ve done ten cars since then.) 

I said, “Well, why—?” 

He said, “You’ve put twenty-five cars in 
front of it.” 

And I said, “What do you mean?” And 
he was ready for me and either had it in his 
pocket, or he went to his office and got it and 
had the very latest restoration list, which I 
had prepared (or had been prepared under 
my direction). And here was maybe twenty- 
seven cars, and this one I’m yellin’ about was 
Number Twenty-Seven, which is where I’d 
put it because of these other twenty-five. I 
didn’t put the twenty-five, though, but a new 
car would come in or a new old car, and I’d 
say, “Oh God, let’s do that one, Ray!” 

And he said, “Well, where do you want 

I said, “Put it in front of everything!” So, 
I had to laugh; I really did! I said, “Oh boy, 
oh boy!” [Laughs] But he was ready; I guess 
over the years it’d be, “What the hell, it that’s 
the way he wants to do it, let him do it,” So—. 

Anyway, as we’re getting ready now for 
our move to 1-80, our new—. Worked on 
the plans, and it looks like within about two 
years we’ll be in business out there. So now 
we’re really hoppin up out here [HAC]. Like 
yesterday, I spent the whole day going through 
the warehouses with our present-day buyer 
and picking cars that we want to restore. So 
many of ’em are unrestored, and we can do a 
class one restoration, which takes a year; you 
tear ’em completely apart. Then other cars that 
you’re not really gonna drive anyway, we can 
do what we call a “cosmetic.” You can do that 
in a couple of months. And that is paint and 
upholstery—straighten the metal, paint it and 
upholster it and put new tires on it and new 

plating; so it looked like a fully restored car. 
And it’ll run, but not very good, but then we 
won’t drive it anyway. But in the museum it’ll 
be fine, and then that, say, we can do four to 
one. So we can do an awful lot of those now. 

But we were going through and lookin’ to 
see which ones actually—and some you can 
display; like there’s a Rainier out there that 
we got from—it’s the same as the beer—it’s 
the make [of] the car, and it’s a limousine or a 
town car, and it’s a 1907 convertible limousine. 
That’s one of the Rockefeller cars we got a 
year or so ago. But it’s totally original. It’s a 
1907 car, and it’s never been restored, and it’s 
beautiful the way it is. The paint is old and 
faded and the brass is tarnished, but it’s just a 
beautiful thing. 

And that car we’ll never touch. The tires 
are totally shot, so we’ll get a set of tires to put 
on it and just put in the museum; that’s the 
way it is. And you know, it’s more beautiful 
than a restored one ’cause it just has aged 

We have quite a few of those, fortunately. 
They add a lot. Then when a car is pretty 
bad, why, then we restore it and it looks like 
a brand-new whatever it is. That’s really fun; 
I enjoy doin’ that. And every car, when it’s 
complete, I really feel like I’d done something, 
although I really didn’t. I mean, you know, 
if wasn’t for me, it wouldn’t’ve been done, 
but still they did it. I just feel so good when 
it’s done and I drive it. And they have to do 
the advertised speed, which is difficult to 
find out, but you can, pretty well, And like 
a Chrysler—Chrysler was great on speed. 
Their Chrysler 70 was supposed to go seventy, 
and their Chrysler 60 went sixty, and their 
Chrysler 80 went eighty. And they had a 72, 
and 72 and a 62, and so on. And they were 
pretty accurate—Chrysler was pretty good on 
it. So we take ’em out, and then we allow for 
the altitude against sea level, and they’ll do it. 


William F. Harrah 

Surprising. Of course, with the speed limits 
we have today, a lot of those old cars are right 
up there. 

Where do you drive them when you go for your 
test drive; where do you go? 

Oh, it’s real easy. The place in Sparks, 
where we’re right off of the freeway there, 
you know, so we just zip right onto that and 
go east as far as we want to go and turn— I 
usually go to the first overpass (you know 
where that is) ’cause by then I can get up to 
top speed and get all the feel of the thing and 
then zip around. Also it’s nice if you’re going 
over the speed limit, which many of em’ll 
do, you can get up there, but you’re back 
down and off and over by the time anybody 
gets to look at you. [Laughs] course most 
policemen are pretty good; you know people 
knock ’em and all, and I hate ’em with their 
radar—I really do, I hate ’em. But still they’re 
pretty good guys, and if you have an old car, 
it’s a different thing. Then they’re a friend, 
you know. If you’re in a Ferrari, they’re an 
enemy. But if you’re in a Pope-Hartford, why, 
they’re way—and they’ll help you along and 
stop other traffic and, “Come on,” you know; 
they’re a buddy then. They’re human. They 
have a lousy job. 

So they really are road tested in every sense of 
the word. 

Oh yeah, yeah, they have to, uh-huh. You 
have to get down to the nitty gritty, ’cause 
so many—like today, you know, they would 
advertise, oh, the ninety-mile-an-hour so- 
and-so, and no way would it go ninety miles 
an hour. And they would just, you know, talk, 
so we’d have to sit through that. Usually you 
can tell by the specifications of what other 
cars’ll do—just about what it’ll do. 

I know my father had a secretary one 
time, a male secretary that was super. I can’t 
remember his name; I’ll think of it. But he was 
like my Bob Hudgens; he just did everything 
and did it real good. So we got to be friends 
’cause many times my father’d be somewhere 
and I’d be with his man doing something. You 
know, I was a teenager. 

So I remember he told me a story one time 
about a Whippet; it was an Overland Whippet. 
That was a cute little car; we have several in the 
museum. And they were advertised at (this is 
in ’27, ’28)—the Whippet would go fifty-five 
miles an hour, which is pretty fast for that car. 
And he was a dealer at the time he told me 
this story, and they wouldn’t go fifty-five. So 
they’d do about fifty or forty-eight, which was 
pretty good considering the design of the car. 
But he said he’d sell these cars, and people, oh, 
they’re so happy, and they go out and they 
come back the next day or the same day and 
say, “This damn thing won’t go fifty-five; it’ll 
only go—. 

So being an honest person (which he 
really was), he’d work it over and he’d tune 
this and tune that, and it still wouldn’t go 
fifty-five. And then he’d take the head off and 
grind the valves and just really spend a lot of 
time and money tryin’ to make that damn 
thing go fifty-five. You know, after all this trial 
and error, maybe he’d sold eight or ten (I don’t 
know how many), and they’re cornin’ back at 
him, and it’s in this little town, and he’s not the 
good guy any more; he’s the guy that’s sellin 
these bum cars that won’t do—. So, “My Cod, 
what am I gonna do?” And all of a sudden in 
the middle of the night—like ideas will come 
to you and [slaps forehead], “Oh!” 

So he went down the next day, and in 
those days the speedometer was operated 
by a little spring inside that would turn and 
the lever would go up, but the stiffness of the 
spring had a lot to do with how fast it would 

The Collector of Antique Cars 


go up. Cornin’ from the factory, they were 
pretty accurate. So all he did on these when 
they’d come in, he’d say, “Okay, I’ll fix your 
car. Come back tomorrow.” So when the guy 
was gone and nobody was lookin’, he’d take 
the speedometer and just bend the spring a 
little bit so the [laughing] speedometer would 
read sixty. So then the man’d come back and 
get his car and take it out—”Oh wow, it’ll go 
sixty!” [Laughing] 

He said, “All those hours I spent tryin’ to 
fix ’em, and all I had to do is bend the spring!” 
Huh! Which is, you know, advertising, or 
human nature, or merchandizing or whatever 
you want to call it; it’s what’s in the customer’s 
mind that’s what matters. 

The Pony Express Museum 

So then I was into this old car collecting, 
and my wife of the time, Scherry, was into 
old clothes, antique clothes, I should say 
[chuckles]. So we were in Hollywood or L.A. 
for some reason. I remember she had a new 
Cadillac I’d bought her that I was real proud of, 
and we’d driven that down; and we were there 
for the Rose Bowl game or something like that. 
And she saw a picture in the paper of Parker 
Lyon with an old costume, and, the picture 
said, “Parker Lyon—Noted Movie Man,” so on. 
Says, had donated “this hat” or “this costume” 
to some benefit. And they were gonna have 
a benefit—the lady so-and-so was havin’ a 
benefit, and this was one of the things that 
would be auctioned off. So Scherry wanted 
to go to that ’cause she was really collecting 
costumes real strong at the time. She went 
into it very strong, did a good job— you know, 
the period of the car—1910,1905, that sort of 
thing. And she got a lot of’em. But anyway, she 
saw this, and she wanted to go. 

So I was busy somehow with somethin’—I 
don’t know what I—oh, I guess that’s when I 

was on the board of directors of the Horseless 
Carriage Club. We would go down once a 
month— that was it—to a meeting. So I was 
down there for the meeting, and the sale 
was the next day. It was the same time as the 
meeting, and it was in Pasadena, I believe. So 
she didn’t know her way around, so I think 
she took a cab to Pasadena while I went to the 

The sale didn’t amount to anything. But 
Parker was there, and he’s a good friend today. 
But he was quite a lady’s man or fancied 
himself to be a lady’s man. At that time he 
was over the hill, but— [laughs]. But anyway— 
and Scherry was really a striking-lookin’ 
gal. So she walked in and wanted to see this 
whatever-it-was, and he really thought she 
was all right. So he was super nice to her. So 
he told her that this was just one of the things 
out of his museum in Arcadia, and she should 
see that—he’d like to show it to her and all. 
She was no dummy, but I guess she got the 
hat or whatever it was and came back. [She 
was] quite excited; she said, “Well, he has this 
museum out there just full of stuff,” called the 
Pony Express Museum. And he’d invited her 
out to see it, da da da. 

And so I said, “Well, let’s—we can do that.” 
So we went out and looked at the museum, 
and there weren’t too many clothes in it, but 
there was everything, just—. See, his father, 
Parker Lyon, Sr., who founded Fresno, I think 
it is, and also the Lyon [Van Lines] moving 
company, had collected all this stuff in the 
old, old days. And he just went to these little 
mining towns in the ’30s and would go in, 
and he’d buy the whole town for a hundred 
dollars, and the price— well, I have all that 
information—what he paid for things. 

But anyway, here was this huge—and 
they had no cars, but everything else, which 
was really things I needed, but—. Parker, I 
got acquainted with him, and we got to be 


William F. Harrah 

pretty good friends, talkin’ [Then] he, either 
at the time or soon after—approached me 
about buyin the thing—the whole thing—and 
which was, as I said, no cars, but there was 
everything else. And in the car collecting, 
all we’d gotten was cars and motorcycles and 
things; and many times we’d thought— and 
people’d say, “Well, what are you gonna have? 
A bunch of cars?” 


“Well, aren’t you gonna have anything 

Then I’d say, “Oh yeah, we’ll have other 
things ’cause everybody isn’t a car nut. But 
that’s down the road, and we’ll get some—.” 

“Well, what are you gonna have?” 

“Well, maybe Pony Express,” maybe this 
and that. 

So anyway, Lyon approached me, and he 
wanted to sell. And I thought, “Oh brother! 
If I could get this, then it would just—.” I 
didn’t want to spend my time collecting placer 
mining stuff and that sort of thing ’cause it 
wasn’t—I wanted to collect cars. So here it 
was all done for me. 

So, “Oh, wow. Lets s talk about So I 
think we got onto it. And Parker was a heavy 
drinker, but he didn’t drink all the time, 
’cause it just made it a little more difficult 
to deal with him, but it was no big deal. But 
anyway, he wanted to sell the museum. And 
the meantime, before I got to talkin’ head- 
and-head, I had it appraised; and I thought it 
was pretty smart of me. Maybe it was sneaky, 
but it was—I’m kinda proud of it. I had no 
idea what it was worth, and I wanted to—you 
know, how are you gonna talk if you don’t 
know what it’s worth? 

So I found a couple (forget how I found 
’em) of antique collectors; I think they had a 
little shop out in that area. And I forget how 
I got into them—a man, wife, and forty-ish, 
and they really knew their stuff. So we thought 

up this idea; Parker was real (I know) real 
you kind of a guy [gesture, rigid, excited]. Oh, 
I didn’t want to talk till I had an idea, so I had 
this couple go in and appraise it; and they 
acted like antique nuts. They went and visited 
every day and appraised the thing, which if 
you can imagine—’cause they couldn’t have 
their pencil and papers out to—. But they 
actually appraised the whole thing by acting as 
just enthusiasts. They went there every day for 
a week and just—. They pretended they were 
from New York or something, so they had to 
see it while they were there and they only had 
a week. We had a real good story cooked up. 

Parker wasn’t around much, fortunately, 
and then he had a manager there who I got 
well acquainted with; in fact, he went to work 
for me later. And the manager was a real nice 
little guy. He was tryin real hard to make it 
go, and it wasn’t goin too good. So here he 
had this couple from New York that came 
in every day and bought their tickets and 
everything, and the best customers he’d ever 
had, so—[laughs]. He’d tell ’em anything they 
wanted to know, and he’d follow ’em around. 
Then somehow they wrote it—gee!—did it, 
but they did and they appraised the thing. I 
have their appraisal today, and it was done, 
and it was very accurate, ’cause I think it was 
questioned and it was accurate. 

So anyway, it came out, I think around 
three hundred [thousand dollars] or 
something. And I think Parker wanted— 
then we got out; I knew where I was. And of 
course, I didn’t want to pay three hundred; I 
wanted to pay a hundred or something. And 
Parker, I think, wanted five hundred or—so 
we were way apart. So we got to talking. The 
three hundred, let me get it straight, is really 
the retail price of the thing; so wholesale, of 
course, it should be less than three hundred. 
So I think maybe wholesale it was maybe a 

The Collector of Antique Cars 


hundred and fifty thousand, and I was willing 
to pay that. 

But Parker and I got to talkin’. I don’t 
know if he’d been dr inkin’ or not, but we 
talked; and we were kinda friends. And four 
hundred, three hundred, da da da da da. And 
so finally—’’Make me an offer. 

So I said, “Okay. A hundred and fifty 

But then I think he had a couple of drinks 
’cause he was a different guy. He got really 
insulted. [Gruff voice] “Ha! That’s ridiculous, 
that’s an insult! I’ll burn it before I’ll sell it for 
that!” da da da da da. And he just— you know. 
So what do you do? 

Well, long before this I discovered—and 
which is the key to the thing—that he’d been 
wantin’ to sell it, sell it. So I said, “Why in the 
hell does he want to—he’s had it for fifteen 
years out there. And he isn’t doing any worse 
now than he was.” It was right across from 
the Santa Anita race track. So that was a 
good location (of course, the horseplayers 
couldn’t care lass, but—) Anyway, the story 
was that it’s a wonderful motel location for 
people—horse track followers— ’cause there 
was none real close, and this is maybe twenty 
or thirty acres, right there. So someone had 
come along and offered Parker a big chunk of 
money (or at least he thought it was) for this 
land. So he’d sold it, and he’d been given a year 
to get off. Well, he was not payin’ attention, so 
by the time I got in the scene, he had about 
three or four months to go. And October 
first, he had to have that off of there; he was 
liable for all sorts of things. So this is maybe 
August and September, this is goin about, or 
maybe July and August. So then when he got 
highly insulted, why, I—you know—I said, 
“Well, time’s gonna—he’s gonna have to.” 
But then I got nervous. I thought, “Oh my 
God, suppose,” you know, “suppose he finds 
some—.” And I wanted it real bad by then; 

oh boy, did I want it! Although not enough 
to pay any more than a hundred and fifty. 

So Parker had a wife (I think her name 
was Gladys. She’s since died of cancer). 
But she was, I’ll say about the classiest 
lady I ever met, outside of my family and 
my wife— just absolutely—. She was very 
good looking, very—she was a Pasadena 
socialite—as social as you can get. But she 
was head-and-head; she could talk to you 
just like—you know— never put you down. 
She was a gracious and extremely—and she 
was no kid. She was in her fifties or sixties, 
but her figure was excellent, and her clothes 
were perfect but not— why, just perfect, 
and her hair was always so [gestures to 
head], and her manner just—the nicest 
ladies I ever knew. And I really liked her; 
Scherry and I both just loved her. And she 
had this drunken husband, and he was, he 
was drinkin’ way too much. And he wasn’t 
payin’ attention to his business, and he was 
a chaser—had been all his life. And they 
had several children. But she knew what 
she had, and she’d thought, “Well, this is 
my life,” and she just did the best she could, 
didn’t complain, just was a—. I admired her 
so much; you know, she could’ve walked out, 
but she thought, well, da da da. 

She was right in on the negotiations and 
all, and—. But then finally [it] was Parker and 
I, and so he was highly insulted. So anyway, so 
I’m siftin’ there and I thought, “Gee, I’d love to 
have that. How can I get it?” And I thought, 
and I thought. 

So I got this phone call, and it was either 
at my office or at home. And it was Gladys 
Parker. “Hi, Bill—” (and we were on a Bill- 
Gladys, you know). “Hi, Bill. How are you?” 

“Oh,” I said, “Gladys, gee whiz, Scherry 
and I have thought about you so much. Sure 
miss seeing you. And,” you know, “how’s 


William F. Harrah 

She said, “Well, really not too good, 
Bill.” She said, “You know the story We have 
another six weeks to get off of here. And 
Parker don’t know what the hell to—really 
don’t know what direction to go in. And you 
can’t move the thing; it costs as much to move 
it as it’s worth. And he’s just about desperate!” 
And she said, “I think he’d gladly take your 
offer.” But she said, “He’s too damn proud to 
call you.” She said, “I’ve asked him a dozen 
times to call you,” and she says, “He’d say, ‘No 
way will I call that cheap bastard!”’ Arid she 
said, “I’m sure if you’ll call Parker, everything 
will just go zing.” She says, “I know it’s his 
place, it’s his thing, he should call you, without 
any doubt. But,” she says, “he’s stubborn; he 
won’t do it, and if you will do that,” she said, 
“I’m sure we’ve got a deal.” 

And I said, “Wow!” I said, “I don’t mind,” 
you know. Anyway, I thought about it—so 
I didn’t call right then; I waited a day or 
somethin’. Then I called. And so I said, “Parker 

So he came to the phone. “Hello.” 

I said, “Hi, Parker. This is Bill Harrah.” 

And he said, “Bill! Gee, it’s nice to hear 
from you! I was just gonna call you!” da da 
da da da [laughs]. 

So we made the deal, and it took I think—. 
Scherry did a super job ’cause I was—you 
know, I had a place to run here. And we 
shipped it up on fourteen freight cars, I think 
it was— railroad freight cars. 

Parker was in the moving business; he 
wanted to move it, which we let him do. We 
could’ve got—but you know, to be polite, 
we did. But we didn’t really trust him too 
much—not that he’d steal anything, but he’d 
go get drunk. And so we wanted to be sure 
we got everything, plus that it was packed 
well. So Scherry went down—and I was here, 
and she was down there, I remember, for two 
or three weeks. I’d go down on weekends or 

whenever I could. And she worked—and 
loved it— fourteen, sixteen hours a day; and 
she was right in there with the packers and 
helping them, but also to see that everything 
was packed good. And the packers were pros, 
but still it didn’t hurt to have someone there 
that—you know, to watch it. So things were 
just packed perfectly and then shipped up in 
the—I think there were several freight cars. 
We have I think a tenth of it on display at 
HAG, and we have nine-tenths still in storage, 
some of which we’ll never use, but there’s 
just—I don’t think you could name a thing 
in 1860 to 1900 that—wash basins and (what 
do they call ’em?)—thunder mugs—what’s 
another word for that? Chamber pots. 

And this Parker Lyon, Sr.—he was kind 
of a dirty old guy, I guess. And he had this 
chanter pot collection. And we still say we 
have the greatest chanter pot collection in the 
world. And he got a big kick out of that, and 
his wife just hated it, apparently. It bugged her 
that he was collecting these chamber pots, so 
he would. Oh, I think there’s a hundred or so 
in the collection, and they’re all different, you 
know, some of ’em real fancy. 

Anyway, we got it here, and then the main 
idea as I explained is—which we will use, you 
know; we’re on our—definitely working hard 
on our plans for the 1-80 now, which we call it. 
And part of that will be the—. We’ve thought 
a little about it and some of the—. See, we’ve 
had the display out there for several years now. 
And we’ll enlarge that, and it is great for the 
kids and all to go in and see. Actually part of 
it was Buffalo Bill’s saddle, and there’s some 
real high spots like that. 

To add a postscript to that, when we had 
some of our car auctions, we also sold some 
of Pony Express things and all duplicates. See, 
like Parker Lyon, Sr., he’d go in and he’d buy 
the whole town, as I said, or so instead of two 
so-and-sos, there’d be sixty of ’em. And we, 

The Collector of Antique Cars 


I’d say, they wanted to sell some; and I’d-say, 
“Well, I don’t want to miss a bet,” so I got all 
the guys that knew anything. Okay—or once 
in a while— well, we never sold a chamber 
pot ’cause that’s kinda cute. But like a certain 
kind of a lamp, and maybe there’s forty-eight 
of ’em. “Well, what’s the most?” 

“Well, we might use a dozen of them at the 
very most in a saloon or somethin’, if we build 
one.” Okay, then we had thirty-two excess, so 
we would sell them. And we have since sold 
enough to pay for what we paid for it. And 
we still have— I said we have nine-tenths of 
it; we’ve sold some, but I’d say we have more 
than half of what we originally bought. 

And the funny thing about it was I 
invited Parker and Gladys up, because we 
sent Christmas cards and kept in touch, and 
I knew their kids and—. So I invited them 
up to the sale. And they came. You know, I 
put ’em up at the hotel, and this and that, and 
very friendly, and—. They came to every sale. 
And he had his catalog, and he’d keep track 
of everything. And then afterwards—and I 
thought, “Oh brother, he’s gonna see—” you 
know—’cause he knew what we were sellin 
it for, and it was ten times what we paid for 

And he was enjoying, it just as much— 
course, he was on the wagon then; he was a 
different man. But he was enjoying it as much 
as we were. He said, “Bill, you got seventeen 
hundred dollars for that damn thing!” And he 
said, “My father paid four dollars for it!” you 
know. “Ha-ha-ha-ha!” It was just like he was 
gettin’ the money, just—real super guy. Then 
she got cancer and died. He’s still around, 
but—one of those stories. 

Building a Collection 

You’ve mentioned your contacts with other 
collectors. Who are some of the collectors that 

have influenced you, and then you end up 
buying their collections? 

Oh, like there was Doc Shafer. He lived 
in San Bernardino. He started in the—gosh 
knows when. He had this place he lived—he 
was an old bachelor. He was a dentist and an 
old bachelor, and you’d go out to his house, 
and he had several acres there, and it was just 
full of old cars, and everything else. He was 
the kind of person that you’ve probably met